Depending on where you run into Ja'mori Coard, you'll find a very different guy.
On the football field, Coard is a punishing defensive lineman for Crestwood, eating up blocks and making stops in the backfield.
But away from the gridiron, Coard is a gentle soul. Someone who spends most of his time volunteering for his church and spending time helping his neighbors in need.
Both of those personalities start with the family that raised him. On the field, he was inspired by his grandmother, Louise Coard, as well as cousins and uncles, to get into athletics. Away from sports, Coard was taught by his mother, Tamra Wactor, to always take time to help people.
"(Wactor) isn't hard on me, but she is at the same time. She just wants me to be the best and have respect for someone who is older than me," Coard said. "All around, she tells me to go be better today than I was yesterday and pushes me every day. She's always pushing me to help. The rest of my family is the same way."
Family continues to drive him on the football field, but not exclusively from the stands. Coard eventually lost his grandma, as well as his uncle Albert. He also has an aunt who is currently battling cancer. Those losses weigh heavily on Coard's heart, but he tries to bottle up that pain and turn it into production for the Knights.
"I just get this feeling. It's the same feeling I get for those family members that have passed. I get to crying and madness and pain all into one. That's how I make plays on the field," Coard said. "With my family members, that's the only time I get that feeling, that pain you feel. When you get ready to play, you want to take it and make somebody else feel that same pain."
That early experience of loss also brought Coard closer to another community, African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dalzell. Coard needed an outlet, so he turned to God. He is heavily involved with his church as an usher and the Young People's and Children's Division at A.M.E., where he volunteers to help the elderly and homeless.
"With the older people that we go help, I want to do that because I know that I have family members that aren't able," Coard said. "It's my goal to go help those people or their family members."
Coard also got involved with the church because of the constant message he got from his mother and grandmother growing up. He got started early, beginning as an usher at 6 years old.
"My mom always taught me to go and help if I saw someone that needed help. My grandma said the same thing, so why wouldn't I do it at church?" Coard said. "Just helping someone find their seat. I was always helping someone out. It's nothing new."
Volunteering gives Coard a feeling that he doesn't have to bottle up and save for the football field.
The Crestwood senior doesn't just help people through his church. Coard sets time aside on Tuesdays and Saturdays to help his neighbors with yardwork and any other little things he can do. He has always taken time to help others, but he made a more concerted effort to block out time to support his community as the world was hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
"One of my neighbors died last year, so my next-door neighbor needed a lot more help and I wanted to help her a little bit more," Coard said. "Anywhere else, you'd see people that don't have enough money and me and my mom would be in the back of the line, and we'll give the person in front of us a dollar or two; or a kid that wants a toy that their parents can't afford, we'll help with that, too."
Coard also wanted to help his football family at Crestwood last year. In the early days of the pandemic, schools were scrambling to get everything they needed to meet additional protocols, so Coard and his family donated things like hand sanitizer and other necessary items to make sure the Knights could practice safely when they returned to the field.
"It's really just knowing that with football we're sweating, so why wouldn't we want to give out some towels or hand sanitizer to make sure we're clean?" Coard said. "(Teammates) were like 'Oh, your family does it like this?' They were happy."
PUTTING IN THE WORK
With the amount of time Coard spends helping people off the field, it's a wonder how he finds time to become a star player with the Knights.
He said the coaching staff at Crestwood, including head coach Roosevelt Nelson, makes sure he takes care of his work on the field and in the classroom.
"Coach Nelson, he pushes me to stay on top of everything. It's the same thing for other players, too. He makes sure we stay on top of our game, and I try to be a leader myself," Coard said. "The balance comes from knowing you have to get it done. You've got to get your schoolwork done to play football."
The pandemic did more than change Coard's schedule. It also changed his body type.
As a sophomore, Coard was a speedy linebacker, but the time away from athletics led the defensive lineman to add a staggering 80 pounds. At first, it wasn't good weight.
"Eating, really. Just eating, eating, eating," Coard said of his transformation during 2020. "I put on 80 pounds in like six months. I was doing it the wrong way."
While he didn't necessarily gain weight the smart way, Coard is making the most of his new physique. He spends a lot of time working to build more muscle.
The success showed on the field last school year.
He was tied for third on the Knights with five tackles for a loss and finished the year with 20 tackles on the defensive line. He was second on the team with 2.5 sacks and had three hurries while also forcing a fumble and blocking an extra point.
Coard's success is the next on a growing list of star defensive linemen from Crestwood.
Jacson Thorne was a force for the Knights two years ago, and Coard played alongside another stud D-lineman in Parris Lowery last year.
"It's just hard work from the coaches, telling us we've got to do this over and get faster and quicker. We make sure we get one part before we go on to the next part," Coard said. "It's just piece by piece. We don't try to make big jumps and make mistakes."
NOT DONE YET, NOT EVEN CLOSE
The Crestwood defensive lineman now comes into his senior season looking to continue to make an impact on and off the field. He has already received some attention from colleges, and he's looking for more. So far, Coard has offers from Gardner-Webb, Campbell, University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Georgia Southern.
2020 was a difficult year to start the recruiting process.
"I thought I was going to be overlooked," Coard said of his junior season. "I want to get more offers, so I want to work harder, like way harder, than I did last year."
As Coard pursues his dream of playing at the next level, he has some great examples to follow. Crestwood currently has two alumni on NFL rosters with Ty'Son Williams on the Baltimore Ravens and Donald Rutledge with the Arizona Cardinals. Those two set the blueprint Coard is hoping to follow, and Rutledge even went to one of the schools that has already offered the Crestwood senior: Georgia Southern.
"They're there, and I want to get there with them. Everything they're telling me, just take that and go with it," Coard said. "I wasn't really around them, but I had cousins that were really close friends with them, so I saw them like every other day. Now, they're in the league on rosters. It's inspirational."
For now, Coard is focused on his senior season at Crestwood. He thinks the Knights are getting ready for a special season.
"Go to state for sure," Coard said of his expectations for 2021. "We've got some dogs, and we've got coaches pushing us every day."
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