BRPD officers mentoring young boys on and off football field

Coach Solomon Ona, Jr. and Coach Jarred Johnson are two Baton Rouge police officers give to the community by teaching young 8-year old boys how to play football.
Coach Solomon Ona, Jr. and Coach Jarred Johnson are two Baton Rouge police officers give to the community by teaching young 8-year old boys how to play football.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Longfellow Park, in Baton Rouge, has become a practice football field for a group of eight to ten year olds. The coaches that meet them there say the sport is giving the boys something to do, instead of hanging out on the streets at night. For two of the coaches, being with the boys has meant putting in extra duty.

On one side on the field, the older boys practice the plays. On the other side, the younger ones run through drills with their coaches.

"I'm a tight end?" one of the boys asks. "Yes, you're a tight end. You block the man in front, that's all you do," one coach answers.

Coach Solomon Ona, Jr. Says when he's out on the field with his team, he feels like a kid all over again. But it's the impact he and another coach are having, on and off the field, that makes it about more than football.

"You know I'm going to go to your class," Ona says to one of the boys. "You can come, I'm being good."

Ona, known on the field as Coach Solo, and Coach Jarred Johnson are not only concerned about whether the kids make the right moves on the field. They're concerned about how the boys are doing in the classroom as well.

"We go to schools and everything. They don't know when we're coming. But we always tell them, you better get your stuff together," Ona said.

"We sent home a letter at the beginning of the season, to all the parents, letting them know if you have any issues with your children - whether it's at school or at home, let us know. We'll deal with it," Jarred Johnson said.

Except when they make those surprise visits to the schools, it's not with their football coaching uniform on. It's with their Baton Rouge Police Department uniform. During the day, the coaches have another title - Officer.

Both men have been on the force for one year.

"I always said I wanted to give back to the community, that's why I became a policeman," Ona said.

The two men met in the 78th police academy. Johnson had helped coach the young football players for five years. But he took a year off, to become a police officer. He then recruited Ona, who played linebacker and defensive end at Mississippi State. But when this group of kids saw policeman were coaching them, it didn't go over smoothly.

"When we first started - when I first came, they were like 'ya'll always doing dirty stuff. Picking on people.' Cause that's the image everybody gave them. But myself and Coach Jarred always tell them, it's not that we're doing anything wrong. We see people do wrong and we correct it," said Ona.

Ona says one night at practice, there was a situation in the parking lot that required them to use their police training. He says that's when the boys began to understand police officers provide help and protection.

That includes correcting their own players.

Ona says they did have a young man on the team that was a bit of a problem. In his words, they stayed on him. He says now that child is one of the most respectful kids.

"We've broken some of the bad habits," said Johnson. "They've turned into leaders in the classrooms and on the field."

For the duo, that's the only record that counts.

Both officers plan to coach again next year, keeping their promise to watch the boys on and off the field.