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Thursday 13 December 2018
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JALEN LEARY : Hard Work Does Pay Off

story by Kelly Harley
photos by Tonya Perry
The smell of fresh-cut grass, the bright lights beaming onto the field, the loud cheers from the stands echoing throughout the stadium, and a jersey marked with a number worn proudly. Calvary Day School’s Jalen Leary knows what it’s like to spend most every Friday night on the football field. The 17-year-old started playing when he was five and hasn’t slowed down; making a name for himself and breaking records along the way.
A Powerhouse on the Field
A senior at Calvary Day School, Jalen Leary is a force on the football field and he has been since day one. As an incoming freshman, Jalen started on the varsity football team, a team that’s usually filled with juniors and seniors. “I set a goal for myself and that was to play varsity as a freshman. I really had to work for that spot,” says Jalen.
Hard work is something Jalen doesn’t shy away from. He has practice four days a week, Fridays are reserved for games and on the weekends he practices even more. It’s rare he takes time off. He plays tailback for offense and an outside linebacker for defense. That means during a game, breaks don’t come often and usually entail just a quick stop for water. “I never get tired of the hard work. The end result is so big and this is what I’ve been working for,” says Jalen.
Calvary Day School head football coach, Mark Stroud, is one of the first to give Jalen the praise he deserves. The 27-year veteran coach knows the football player has what it takes. “Jalen has a relentless spirit. He is determined and tough, and he won’t back down or be denied,” says Coach Stroud. “You won’t look back and say he should have tried harder. He’s going to give you everything he has all the time. There is a passion about the way he plays the game.”
A Record Season
Jalen’s junior year was what his parents call his break out season. As a running back, Jalen ran a total of more than 1,600 yards and broke the school record for a single season rushing yard. Jalen scored 22 touchdowns, tying the school record. Some of the awards Jalen racked up: First Team All-State Running Back, First Team Linebacker and Co-Player of the Year in the Region. Jalen has also received the Quarterback Award, Savannah Morning News Player of the Week and was interviewed on ESPN radio. Jalen says his hard work earned him the praise. “I’ve been patient and put in countless hours of work and I feel I’ve earned the accolades I’ve received,” says Jalen.
“Jalen is naturally one of the best players on the team and he’s an encourager. He is a role model in the way he plays the game,” says Coach Stroud. “He’s also a very good person. He never thinks too highly of himself and has a humble spirit about him.”
Football from the Beginning
Jalen grew up loving football. His father played high school ball in Texas and he has plenty of other family members who played the game at high school and collegiate levels. For Jalen, his career started in kindergarten when he joined the Pooler Packers. He played with the team until he was 13. “Pooler Packers helped me learn how to be a hard worker and how to be a team player,” says Jalen. “I had some great coaches who showed me what it meant to have a good work ethic.”
Two of those coaches were Hugh Elton and Marvin Cooper. Jalen and his parents say they were always there when he needed them and shaped him to be a good player. “They both played profound parts in the lives of the kids. They taught them fundamentals and introduced them to middle school ball,” says Jalen’s mom, Shericka Leary. “They also welcomed us. We weren’t Savannahians and the people at Pooler Recreation became our family. Coaches Elton and Cooper knew people here and played a big role in introducing Jalen to other coaches.”
When asked why Jalen loves football so much, he says it represents him. “In football, you have to work, there is no in between. You have to be disciplined and dedicated. If you are, you’ll get a good end result,” says Jalen. It’s that end result that drives him as well as his love for his nana. “I really do this for my nana, she definitely believes in me,” says Jalen.
Football and Life Lessons
Jalen believes one of the most valuable things football has taught him is discipline and he says he’s disciplined in all aspects of his life. He also knows that he couldn’t do the great things he is doing without the support and love of his family. Jalen’s parents and his brother are some of his biggest supporters.
“My parents taught me at a young age that it’s important to work hard for what you want. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear how hard work can change you and get you to where
you want to be,” says Jalen. “My parents push me, invest in me, make sacrifices for me and I’m so thankful for them. They believed in me when other people didn’t and I know for a fact they are always on my team.”
Jalen’s parents have never missed a game and make sure he knows his true potential. “We always tell him that no matter what you do, do something you really enjoy. Football is only a small aspect of his life,” says Jalen’s father, Jason Leary. “We want him to be a productive adult in society and go to college. Hard work is something he can apply to his everyday life outside of football. Whether he plays college ball, we are always going to be proud of him and keep pushing him.”
Plans for the Future
Jalen has big plans for his future, both on and off the field. He wants to play college football and it’s likely a dream that will become a reality. “He is definitely going to play somewhere and he has a lot of folks interested in him,” says Coach Stroud. “Whoever ends up taking him will get more than they bargained for, in a good way. He will be a good person and a good player and they will get a great deal when they get Jalen.”
Along with playing football at the collegiate level, Jalen will put his fascination with medicine to good use. He plans to study something in the medical field in college. His favorite subject is biology and currently, he is in the medical magnet program, a program that allows him to dive deeper into science and gives him the opportunity to job shadow at different doctor’s offices.
It’s perhaps his all-around solid work ethic that will allow Jalen to continue to succeed in life. He is a remarkable athlete and an even better person. He is a team player, a motivator to his peers and is dedicated to making his life one worth remembering. He offers advice for other kids. “You definitely need to be patient, focused and persistent,” says Jalen. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You can do anything, just believe in yourself. Hard work does pay off.”




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