By: Adam Ogburn
Ja’Marcus Ashley thought he wanted to be on TV, far away from Calvert where he watched his grandmother work three jobs just to meet his basic needs.
But kids just like him drew him back home.
Soon after graduating college from Texas A&M in spring 2017, Ashley accepted an assistant football coaching position at Calvert High School, where he played quarterback from 2007 to 2010.
Now, as the head coach since 2018, Ashley gives back to his players by feeding them full-course meals two to three times a week along with the help of community volunteers.
“(Calvert) is everything to me,” Ashley said. “A lot of times, wherever you grow up, you leave that place without putting something back into it for the next generation. (Coming home) was a no-brainer. Our kids just needed a boost of confidence that they can get out of here.”
Located northwest of College Station, Calvert is a city of 1,328 people, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. There are only 46 students in high school, which means Calvert competes in 1A Division II, the classification for the smallest schools in Texas. Because of their lack of numbers, the Trojans play six-man football, where all six players are eligible to catch a pass and the player that takes the snap cannot run the ball past the line of scrimmage without a clean exchange.
In all, from kindergarten through 12th grade, there are 140 total students in Calvert ISD, and they all attend school on the same campus. Ninety-three percent of those students are economically disadvantaged.
Ashley saw that economic struggle firsthand growing up. When he was at Calvert, he remembers his head coach, Coylin Grimes, making sure all his players had the basic necessities.
“[Coach Grimes] had his own family,” Ashley said. “Yet, he was still spending out of his own pocket to feed us at times and taking away from his own family to spend time with us and give us a lot of the things that we didn’t have.”
Ashley now seeks to reciprocate what his grandmother and Coach Grimes did for him to his players by providing for them as a Calvert graduate himself.
“It does force you to spend a lot of your own money,” Ashley said. “It’s a responsibility you take on, and you don’t second guess it. Happiness isn’t in money. We’re here to be productive and help those around us.”
With Ashley coming up on his fourth season as the Calvert head coach, he has brought stability to a Calvert program that had four head coaches in the four years prior to his arrival.
“It does a lot for the kids,” Ashley said. “To hear the same voice over and over, it does something to you. You say, ‘A lot of things may change but this person won’t.’ These kids need stability because a lot of them don’t have stability in their everyday lives.”
And even with the challenges its players face off the field, Calvert has had plenty of success between the white lines on Friday nights. The Trojans have made it to the second round of playoffs in each of Ashley’s three seasons as head coach. They also won a state title back in 2002 and haven’t missed the playoffs since 2012.
With Calvert’s pedigree, Ashley has high expectations on and off the field.
“I am always going to have the bar set in Heaven,” Ashley said. “I am never going to lower it because I see the potential in them.”
This year, Ashley believes the Trojans will be down on numbers, and will have to shift to more of a power game. However, the Trojans will have star player Kevondre Corona, who earned Class 1A Division II Newcomer of the Year as a freshman last season, leading the way in the fall.
“When you talk about kids who have gone through a lot, he’s one of those kids,” Ashley said when asked about Corona. “On those days when I’m ready to complain, he’s always smiling. It’s just contagious, and he’s an inspiration to my life. He has a bright future.”
Center Antonio Porter, who was an all-state honorable mention last year as a sophomore, is another player that Ashley is excited to see take the field this year for the Trojans.
But no matter how this season goes, it won’t be the results on the field that that will define Ashley as a head coach.
“Whether we ever win a championship or not, that is not going to determine to me how successful I was as a coach,” Ashley said. “It’s seven to eight years down the line when I bump into one of my ex-players and they say, ‘I have a family and I’m doing well.’ Those are the accolades that matter.”
And despite the challenges he faces due to Calvert’s socioeconomic situation, Ashley said he wouldn’t trade the chance to coach his players and give back to the community of Calvert for anything in the world.
“They are my life; they’re my why,” Ashley said. “I’ve seen kids have nothing to offer financially but give me everything they have. It’s an unparalleled feeling. It’s beautiful.”