Yellowjackets heading in right direction

Carver running back Jamaari Blackburn stands with offensive coordinator Ameer Watkins.

Yellowjackets heading in right direction
October 06
13:35 2021

Even after a tough loss last Friday to the Community School of Davidson that dropped their record to 4-3 on the season, the Carver Yellowjackets have something to smile about.

With four wins so far on the year, Carver already has as many wins as it did the previous two years combined. Changes on the coaching staff and a change in culture that was started last year by head coach Wayne Griffin has the Yellowjackets’ program trending upward.

“For me, it’s just the buy-in effect from the kids,” said Griffin about how his team has turned things around. “We had the COVID protocols where we could only have 45 minutes’ worth of work in and as a new head coach coming in, that just wasn’t really enough time to instill in these kids the belief and establish a winning culture.

“Now, we have more time, we had a little bit better of an offseason, the kids worked hard and just the fact that they just started believing in each other.”

One of the biggest surprises this season has been the emergence of running back Jamaari Blackburn. Through six games, he has rushed for 1142 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is averaging over 190 yards per game and averaging 11.3 yards per carry. Many are saying he is one of the top three running backs in the entire county.

“When I first took over this program, some of the kids that had a little bit of talent, I had to try and put a blanket over all of them because we have open enrollment and folks was calling them and wanting them and I had to get kids like him on board,” said Griffin. 

“His success is attributed to the hard work he has put in in the offseason. I think the best is yet to come for him and what he is going to do before he leaves from being a Yellowjacket.”

Blackburn is a humble young man who prefers to let his play do the talking for him. He says the work he put in during the offseason prepared him to have a great year running the ball for Carver.

“Basically, it’s just practice, practice, practice to get ready for this season and I did what I had to do to get ready,” said Blackburn.  

Blackburn doesn’t take a lot of credit for his success this season. He feels the coaches and his teammates have put him in the right place to perform to the best of his ability.

“The coaches and the linemen, ‘cause without the linemen, you wouldn’t be able to get that many yards without them, and the coaches for putting the plays together for me,” he said about why he has been so successful.

The speed that Blackburn shows on the field separates him from his opponents figuratively and literally. He feels that is his best attribute and hopes to continue shredding defenses throughout the year and possibly into the playoffs.

Carver offensive coordinator Ameer Watkins is in his first year with the Yellowjackets. He has worked with several schools around the county such as Atkins, Parkland and North Forsyth. Watkins says the first time he watched Blackburn play was last season, and was thoroughly impressed by what he saw.

“I was sitting in the press box at a game and I wasn’t coaching that night because we had a bye week and I got the chance to see him play against Atkins and it was a third and 30 and they handed the ball off and this kid took it 80 yards to the house,” Watkins said. Later on in the game, same scenario, third and 25 and he took it 65 yards to the house.

“He is a one-play break guy. If he has a crease, he’s gone, and nobody is really going to catch him. He has really good vision and also is a big team leader and I have seen that as far as how he talks to the guys. He’s more so not a vocal guy, but he does it by his gameplay and that’s what I’ve seen from him since game one.”

Watkins says he was attracted to the Carver offensive for a number of reasons. His goal is to help bring the school back to being one of the powerhouse programs in the county.

“The first thing is just to get better,” he said. “To get better from where they were here in the recent past, but also to bring back some of the history of what Carver is all about. Carver has always been a pillar of the community as one of the original Big 4 high schools in Forsyth County and we just want to bring back that nostalgia, so to speak, of what Carver football is all about.”

Watkins says the coaching staff worked with the players throughout the summer to get them ready for the year and the kids have bought in to the program. He says he tailored his offense around the players he has on the roster and it has worked well thus far. Watkins feels they are building something special over there on Carver School Road.

“It’s all about being a village and everybody together,” Watkins continued. “We all put our heads together and Coach Griffin is the head captain on the ship and he kind of got the right pieces together for the kids. And that’s the definition of being a true leader; someone that can put people together, no matter what background they come from.  The kids have bought in and now we’re rolling.”

Griffin says he brought Watkins on board because he felt Watkins had the right demeanor for the job.  He says Watkins is able to relate to the kids perfectly and maximize their talents with his play calling.

“When we started to rebuild my staff for this season, I just wanted to surround myself with some good men in general,” said Watkins. “I know who I am as a coach, I couldn’t have 10 me’s on my staff, so I had to get some guys, and everything had to fit like a puzzle. I like his laid-back style. He has his own way of communicating and getting the most out of our athletes and it’s just working well for us.”

Griffin says when he took the position at Carver, his goal was to win. He says there were a few things that needed to change in order for that to happen. He feels they are on schedule for where he wants his team to be, but wants to take it game by game and continue to improve.

“For me, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “We can always try to shoot for the stars, but if we hit the playoffs, it will be a success. My goal is to make the playoffs, possibly host a home game, and just go from there. When you make the tournament, anything can happen.”

Griffin says he was able to change the culture at Carver so quickly by building relationships in and out of the school. He says it doesn’t stop with the players, you have to build bonds with the families of the players and the community around the school as well.

“When I first got here, I wanted to meet with each and every kid and let them know what my vision was and how they would work into that plan moving forward,” Watkins stated. “I sat down with all of my student-athletes and we started building a plan and I started selling them on a vision.

“It’s not secret; if they wanted to stay here, they could. If they wanted to go somewhere else, unfortunately, we have a system that allows them to do that as well. I tell these kids that I am blessed and honored every time that we take the field, because they have trusted me by staying here and believing in what I was selling.”

Being the head coach at Carver is not something Griffin takes lightly. He knows he and his staff are possibly changing the futures of some of the young men in his program by keeping them on the straight and narrow.

When he took the position at Carver, Griffin says he heard all of the naysayers that said it wasn’t a good job to take and enjoys just seeing the fortunes of the young men change for the better.

“God appointed me to be here and I just fall back on my belief in God that I am here for a reason and He is going to give me the resources I need to work my purpose and vision while I’m here,” he stated. “We may be winning now, but my vision is for us to win big during my time here and we are headed in the right direction and doing something special over the next few years.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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