For the past 34 years, seeing his students and football players grow up and make something of their lives has been the ultimate reward for Lake Clifton High School Football Coach James Monroe.
They’ve gone to college, left their rough and poor streets of Baltimore and seen that there’s a bigger world out there for them. A number have gone on to be coaches, passing down the lessons “Coach Money” handed to them.
On Wednesday, the Ravens gave Monroe a more tangible reward – two tickets to Super LIII in Atlanta. It includes flights and hotel too, and was sprung on him by defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
“This is a blessing. This is a surprise. Oh my Lord!” Monroe said. “I can’t wait to get back to the school and show everybody.”
Monroe isn’t a football coach. He introduces himself as a life coach. He has worked tirelessly over the years to instill a culture of love and responsibility in his program. The kids, who often live in difficult situations to say the least, have formed a real brotherhood.
Monroe often piles them into the back of his SUV to drive them home after practice. When they drop someone off, the other kids will say, “I love you, and be safe.”
“It’s about changing young men’s lives,” Monroe said. “These kids might not have food at home. They might not have love at home. I want to show them love.”
Frank Blackmon is a senior running back/safety who says he’s gone from being a “terrible kid” to a 3.0 student.
“My ninth-grade year, I was a mess-up,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t know what to do. So I started over. When I met ‘Coach Money,’ I wanted to be around him. He pushed me. He changed my life.”
Monroe’s stunned principal has often asked how he gets his players to attend class regularly. Monroe says it’s all about showing them that somebody cares for them – with a little tough love sprinkled in.
He said tours of the Under Armour Performance Center, like they got Wednesday, also opens their eyes to the possibilities outside of their neighborhood.
“No matter where you come from, what area you come from, anything is possible,” Monroe said. “All you have to do is keep pushing, keep a dream and keep your mind on the straight and narrow. Keep looking for the stars and things will happen for you.”
Now, after more than three decades, the dream of attending the Super Bowl will come true for Monroe.
“He deserves this,” Blackmon said. “Hard-working man right there.”