Coach Dante Jones credits sports with saving his life.
As a 6-foot-2 and 215-pound senior linebacker at Dunbar High in Baltimore in 1994, Jones helped the Poets (12-0) become Baltimore’s first state champions. He recovered a fumble during a 15-point Class 2A rout of Cumberland’s Fort Hill High.
His achievements were memorable; but Jones’ drive was also personal. Darry Smith, a promising 6-foot, 185-pound quarterback died in March 2005 after being gunned down at the age of 19.
“The loss of Daryl really made me see,” Jones said. “I understand and focus more on saving the lives of inner-city kids. It has really become embedded in my coaching philosophy.”
Zenger interviewed coach Jones and former players Dionta Cox, Kyle Jackson, Sterling Jones, Tariq Toure (formerly Jones) and Terrence Wilson. All became influential in their communities.
In 2013, Dante Jones moved with his wife, Tyra, their two sons and five daughters to Dover, Delaware, after accepting the head coaching position at Dover High.
But Smith’s No. 7 football jersey still hangs in the garage of his home in Dover, just as it did over his desk at Edmondson High School, when he coached the Baltimore City’s football team to a 37-9 Maryland Class 2A state championship in December 2006.
Jones became Edmondson’s football coach after the previous year, assisting Pete Pompey, whose Red Storm was a 2A state runner-up to Urbana in 1999. The Red Storm’s victory over McDonough made Jones the first man to have coached and played for state title-winning football teams from Baltimore.
And he never forgot sports’ larger purpose.
Currently, the athletic director and football coach at Early College High School on the campus of his collegiate alma mater, Delaware State University, Jones has established a community movement, Turn Around Dover, geared to uplifting communities. The move follows the recent murders of two promising young men in a city with a high crime rate.
Paying it forward
Dionta Cox lived in Columbia, Maryland, which he saw as affluent and white, while his family was neither. Originally from the city, Cox begged his mother to let him move in with his father, Dione Jones, in West Baltimore, so he could be around more black kids and be coached by Uncle Dante.
Some Edmondson players teased Cox as being too small at 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, citing nepotism as his greatest asset. But Cox worked harder than most, lifting weights and running wind sprints. His determination paid off.
Cox grabbed five interceptions and “never gave up a touchdown” as a senior as the Red Storm limited McDonough’s 6-foot-5 receiver Derek Drummond to two receptions for 22 yards and no touchdowns, having entered the game with 11 scoring receptions.
“There are obstacles and barriers as black men we have to overcome just to be looked at as a citizen in this country,” said Cox, the eldest of eight. He is first to go to college in his family and a single father of a 6-year-old daughter. “That’s why I’ve chosen the path of becoming an educator and mental- and behavioral-health specialist.”
Cox earned a BA in mass communications in 2011 from St. Augustine’s while playing defensive back over the course of four years. He received his master’s in 2015 from Delaware State University.
“At Early College, I’m an English and language arts department liaison and a 10th-grade, advanced placement and senior advisory teacher. Before teaching at ECS, I worked in a special education autism program and moved on to an Intensive Learning Center in Delaware,” said Cox, who also serves as an admissions counselor and social worker at Dover Behavioral Health.
“I handle the intake process for patients seeking services for mental health or substance abuse, as well as group, individual and family therapy sessions. I have several family members that dealt with mental health, as well as substance abuse. My goal is to give the right intervention and influence of a loving, trusting adult. Everyone needs help. Paying it forward is key.”
The Quiet Assassin
As a 6-foot-3, 220-pound team captain, linebacker and tight-end for Edmondson, Kyle Jackson was nicknamed “the quiet assassin” by the Red Storm staff.
“You don’t need the glitz and glam,” said Jackson. “Hard work and dedication will get you there every time.”
Jackson has always displayed maturity beyond his years, like during an early-season practice in 2006, consoling a teammate who was having a bad practice.
“I know how mad you are right now,” Jackson said. “You got a vein coming out of your forehead. But you can’t be like that.”
Jackson had one of his best games in October 2006, during a 12-0 shutout of neighborhood rival Dunbar as the Red Storm limited future NFL star Tavon Austin earned 61 rushing yards.
“Coach Dante always showed us what family was about, generally showing his belief in us by going out of his way to do things for us that he didn’t have to do,” said Jackson, who earned his BS in sports management in 2012 after playing four years at Bowie State alongside Sterling Jones.
“Sports saved me from many bad decisions growing up,” said Jackson, whose childhood friend was killed in a summer car accident after an alleged robbery. “There are many life skills that come with football, bringing out characteristics you may never have known you had.”
Jackson was recently named the Bulldogs’ interim head coach.
“I enjoy coaching football because it is bigger than the sport. I’m still close with the guys from that 2006 state championship team,” Jackson said.
“In today’s world, instant gratification is a crutch to our youth. Everyone wants to be seen, but doesn’t want to do the work. My message to the youth is: Trust your process and work toward your goals.
Still Helping Others
Sterling Jones was a 5-foot-9, 200-pound team captain and linebacker who led the Red Storm with nine interceptions. In the state title game, Jones rushed for 63 yards, a two-point conversion and recovered a fumble that set up his 5-yard touchdown run during a 21-point fourth quarter.
Jones’ success continued over four years at Bowie State University, where he amassed 220 tackles, 20 pass breakups, 11 forced fumbles, five sacks and four fumble recoveries and earned defensive MVP in 2010 and both Male Athlete of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year in 2011.
“Growing up in Baltimore City was a challenge, but Coach Dante and all the other coaches became mentors to us,” said Jones, who earned his BA in communications and public relations in 2011, and his masters in organizational communications in 2013 from Bowie State.
“Their coaching didn’t stop after our last high-school football season. They are always a phone call away to help to continue to guide us through life. My teammates are my brothers. A lot of us attended the same college, joined the same Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and still spend time together.”
A support-service specialist in building management and acquisitions for the Washington, D.C., government, Jones annually provides Thanksgiving meals and collects clothing during Christmas for families.
“My high-school experience taught me core values of working together, that no one man is bigger than the team,” Jones said. “What I do affects people. I’m still continuing to help others and to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.”
Trust Takes Time
The second-youngest of 17 in a Muslim family, Tariq Toure was among the Red Storm’s best students and a team captain, but only after begging his parents to let him leave an Islamic private school which had mandatory religious classes but no sports. Nor was his school accredited.
Edmondson’s administration allowed Toure’s credits to transfer after Dante Jones argued his presence would expose students to a different culture.
Toure ran for scores of 6-, 16- and 18-yards and a career-high 308 of the Red Storm’s 345 rushing yards in their championship victory over McDonough.
A 5-foot-9, 185-pounder, Toure finished with 1,951 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, often breaking long runs, sidestepping linebackers and plowing over defensive backs. Toure played for four years at Bowie State, graduating with a BS in 2011 and with an MA in 2016 from Howard University.
“I majored in social work with a community administration and policy concentration,” said Toure, a married father of an 8-year-old daughter who changed his last name at a friend’s suggestion. “When my daughter was born, I decided to change my name. I was going to legally change it, but then I thought: Why would I ask for my name back from the people who stole it?”
A former vice president of Male Enterprise Network (MEN), Toure has worked as a program administrator for at-risk youth, authored several poems, and has featured work online, including For The Love Of The Game about football and Audubon about Malcolm X.
Toure was also portrayed in April by Baltimore native Nathan Corbett in the six-episode HBO series, “We Own This City,” which chronicled the corruption and arrests of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.
“One day, two police officers came to me. I’m not one of those people who are happy they came to my living room, so there was nothing I could offer them as far as resolution. There are police officers who will plant drugs on you and keep on pushing,” said Toure, a 2020 winner of an award from The Center for Global Muslim Life for his short film, Dear Beloved Son.
“Being from the place where people get a taste of what it feels like being black, I was like, y’all might be some alright dudes, but the police I grew up with were baldheaded white dudes in unmarked cars terrorizing the community. We pray that God purifies everyone’s intentions, and we welcome any help we can get. But their work to gain trust will take time.”
Focused on money
Dante Jones worried about Terrence Wilson, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound sophomore running back. So impressive was Wilson’s size and speed that Toure volunteered to move to fullback and block for him.
“Tariq lived right down the street from me as a kid, so I looked up to him like a big brother,” said Wilson, now father to two boys, four and nine. “My mother had a decent job, but being from the streets, I wanted to make money selling cocaine, not practice and work out.”
Wilson’s championship exposure led to solid performances during his junior and senior seasons and opportunities to play in college upon graduating in 2009.
But football ended for Wilson after a year at conference runner-up Fort Scott Community College in Kansas in 2010, and an injury-plagued half season at conference champion Hartnell College in Salinas, California, in 2011.
“I wound up coming home when my shoulder got damaged. But what I learned in high school is to stay humble and focus on transferring my reactions on the field into real life,” said Wilson, who often hires and mentors youth as the owner of Humble Man Landscaping.
“I’m entering my 10th year, mostly solo, with a client base of 95 to a 100 right now. I maintained that along with being an electrician in charge of a 10-man crew over the course of 2016 to 2020 before transitioning over to landscaping full-time.”
One day, while parked in his truck outside his home, Wilson’s 4-year-old son, Travis, came out to ask if his dad was OK.
“Thanks for checking on your daddy,” Wilson told Travis. “Living in Baltimore can be scary. You always want to protect your boys and vice versa.”
Edited by Fern Siegel and Andre Johnson
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