Mentoring youth a touchdown at a time

Mentoring youth a touchdown at a time

It’s been one year since Lakatriona Brunson took over the reigns of Miami Jackson High School’s football team, making history as the first-ever female head football coach in Florida.
The physical education teacher — known to many as the tough-as-nails Bernice on “South Beach Tow” — is just as tough on the gridiron as she is on the now-defunct reality television show. But despite her toughness, Brunson received a lot of flak for being a female coach in a male-dominated sport. In fact, she still does. “Man, that’s never going to stop. Some people love me. A lot of people hate me. I don’t care,” Brunson said. “I’m here. I’m still standing. Nothing can take that away from me.”
Brunson admits her first year was a challenge, though. After only a few games, half of Brunson’s coaching staff — including assistant head coach Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame — quit unexpectedly. The team was left with a skeleton coaching staff for the remainder of the season and finished 3-7.

“Last year was a roller coaster, a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “But I wouldn’t change any of that for nothing. I take the good with the bad. I always have. That’s what builds character. That’s what paved my way to where I am today. And that’s what I’m trying to instill in my kids: to not give up, even when the going gets tough.”

Brunson continually stresses to her players they need to work hard and try their best in the classroom just as much — if not more — than on the football field. “Academics is important. If you don’t have the grades, you can’t play. You can’t do anything,” she said.

Brunson speaks from experience. Without the grades, she wouldn’t have become a track and field and basketball standout at her alma maters, Miami Northwestern High School and Tennessee State University. She went on to play football for the Miami Fury, formerly of the Independent Women’s Football League, in the mid-2000s. Brunson makes sure her protégés stay active in study hall and the weight room so “they don’t have a chance to get in trouble.”

“Kids get in most trouble during the off season. So I keep them busy and run them ragged all year so they won’t get in trouble,” Brunson said. “My goal is to get them so tired, they won’t have a chance to go anywhere but straight home after school. The violence that is plaguing the youth in this community is insane. I care about these kids and I want them to be safe.” “When I can and I have the money, I even feed them so they don’t have to go anywhere after school to get something to eat. They can just go straight home. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, man, we need a lot of villagers up in here.”

Besides her students’ safety, Brunson’s long-term goals as head football coach is to win Jackson a district or state title and help the school become more like her alma mater, Northwestern, where pride is concerned. “There is no school in this county that has the pride and alumni giving back to their community like the Bull Nation at Miami Northwestern,” Brunson said. “That culture is missing from Jackson. I want to help build that Generals pride.”