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Football Coach discovers joy of teaching

 

“Salt and light is all you can be at the end of the day,” said Ashford Collins (’12) as he sat in the same cafeteria where he used to share meals with his teammates. “When I came to MNU, I was just a football player. When I left MNU, I was a young man after God’s own heart.”

Originally majoring in criminal justice, Collins changed his major to education when he realized he could invest in the lives of young people before crime ever became a part of their lives.

Collins now serves his community as a 6th grade language arts teacher at Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas and as the running backs’ coach for MNU’s Pioneer football team. In 2012, Collins was the recipient of the African American Education Scholarship that he earned for representing a minority in the field of education.

Collins represents a minority that is in great demand in America: black men who devote themselves to bettering children’s education. Male teachers represent only 17 percent of the teaching force in elementary and middle school combined. Only a scant two percent of teachers nationwide are African American men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Collins said he was inspired to devote himself to this career because he is intimately familiar with the impact that strong male role models can have on a child’s life. For Collins, that impact came at the hands of his high school football coach.

“Everyone called him Coach Pops,” Collins said. “But I called him ‘Uncle’.” It was the example set by role models like Coach Pops, Collins said, that inspired him to pour into the lives of young people today. Even though the two men live states away from each other now, they retain their relationship to this day. “Even when I talk to him today, he still drives the same old white pickup truck,” Collin said smiling.

Collins said as a young boy living in Tennessee, he felt a ‘void’ that could only have been filled by masculine mentorship.

“He got after us and he busted our tails at practice. But we would want to hang out with him outside of practice because he was funny and he would share things with us. He used football as a facilitator to each us about life. He went beyond [football] and he just invested in our lives. There was so much more to it [than coaching] and that is what my goal is now.”

While Collins shares his students’ enthusiasm for earning good grades and high test scores, he confesses that is not the most satisfying aspect of his job.

“My rewards don’t come from what my students’ final grade are, or what they do on their final assessments,” he said.

For Collins, his greatest satisfaction comes from students returning to his classroom to fill him in on their lives.

“I had a letter written to me from a student,” Collins said. “She said, ‘I want to thank you for always talking to us and following through on what you say you are going to do. It makes us feel protected.’”

Collins said if there was one central lesson he took from his time at MNU, it was the key word of intentionality. 

"It became the theme here to me and to my personal life, and how I viewed people," Collins said. "If you’re not building a relationship with them, nothing you say or do will matter."

Building relationships is just what Collins did at MNU, and is what he continues to do in his work today.

“I wanted to be so much more than a football player,” Collins said of his arrival at the campus in the fall of 2007. “And that is what I became during my journey here at MNU."

 

 

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