To these guys, Grayson, Kentucky is home.
News from that home has been difficult to deal with as they went back to the places they come from during the ongoing Covid 19 shutdown.
They’ve spent the past few years building a team which has set records on the field as well as in the classroom. They’ve attended a local church every Sunday and enjoyed standing dinner dates with local families since their first days in town. The people of Grayson and Carter County, they agreed, have embraced them in ways they might never know in their true hometowns.
De’Anta Sipp, a running back from Senatobia, Mississippi who is majoring in social work;
Amari Hardwick, a wide receiver from Moffett, Oklahoma, majoring in business;
And, Jakwon Roberts, the team’s quarterback from Smiths Station, Alabama who is majoring in psychology and pursuing a minor in science.
Each of them is 21. Roberts and Sipp are entering their senior year at KCU and Hardwick is awaiting his third year of study there. Scattered away and waiting for any announcements about their next season, news of unrest in Grayson came to them through social media and family members.
“After we heard the community talk, it didn’t take us long to decide we didn’t want it to go down the way it was going down,” Hardwick said, adding “In Grayson, everybody has welcomed me with open arms – Grayson is home.”
Sipp, who joined the Carter County Post via a Zoom call from Mississippi along with Roberts who called in from Alabama while on break from his job, said Grayson and KCU have provided more than just a home.
“I’m dying to get back to my family,” he said. “I really enjoy Grayson.”
Roberts cited the welcome he and fellow student athletes have received from the congregation at
First Church of Christ, and his own choices as a quarterback recovering from a shoulder injury. He could have transferred to a school closer to where he’s originally from, but wanted to stay at KCU “because Grayson and the community is home.”
Collectively, the team members have racked up an impressive number of community service projects and partnerships during their time here. They’ve seen a growing number of local residents in the stands at their games, and predict their “even better” offense next season will add to that enthusiasm.
Lately, they’ve become concerned those good works and their team’s standing in the community have been tarnished by an individual who is technically a member of their team, but has never actually worn their uniform on the field.
Throughout the interview, none of them call that person by name, and they each declined multiple opportunities to speak negatively about him. They do chuckle a bit when it’s noted that a couple of other members of the team aren’t feeling quite as forgiving or gracious about the situation.
“We want our return to Grayson not to be any kind of conflict because of the love and open arms we’ve received here, and the interest in our team,” Hardwick said, with Roberts adding he has personally felt motivated by the community’s support.
“We don’t want Grayson to feel like we don’t appreciate them.”
“The voice that Grayson has been hearing the last couple of weeks – that’s not the voice of the KCU football team and the KCU minority community,” Hardwick said.
Sipp explained they wanted to express their love of the community at this time because the local protest organizer has been identified as a KCU football player. He and teammates want to continue working at local churches, senior centers and youth programs while winning games and enjoying a growing crowd of local fans.
One of their coaches was on hand during the interview, but chose to let the men speak for themselves without any comment as an administrator. He did, however, later make a comment about his team member’s convictions and current concerns.
“These guys want to lead people to Christ. I think most fear this situation might turn people away from Christ.”
Story by TIM PRESTON
Carter County Post
Photos by KCU and MICHELLE BRAND