It's a cool Friday night in early September and the Dorsey Dons have taken the field at Jackie Robinson Stadium, a well-manicured track and field adjacent to their campus in South Los Angeles. Stray palm trees pierce the skyline. Green pom-poms shimmer under the stadium lights. A DJ with a multi-colored disco ball on his booth has set up shop by the track near the 40-yard-line and blares songs like "Bodak Yellow" and "Niggas In Paris."
Early in the first quarter, Dorsey's 16-year-old running back is handed the ball behind the line of scrimmage. He bounces left, then strafes right and bursts through a hole before plowing into—and pushing back—a pile of four defenders. His name is Jojuan Collins, and this is what he does. It's why he had five scholarship offers, including ones from Oklahoma and Georgia, to his name before ever competing in a full varsity game.
Jojuan only began lifting weights this spring and yet his figure resembles that of a Navy SEAL. Veins snake through his forearms, while his calves better resemble those of Dorsey's offensive linemen than his fellow skill position players. He is still two years away from his high school graduation but that hasn't stopped his coaches from postulating that Collins will one day become the most sought-after football recruit in America.
Dorsey's opponent in this game is Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, a formidable private school in Los Angeles's South Bay region. Less than a decade ago, this matchup would have been heavily tilted in the Dons' favor. For decades, no program west of the Mississippi gave its student-athletes a better shot at playing professional football than Dorsey. Tonight, they are the underdogs. Dorsey is among the inner city public schools in Los Angeles that have had their talent cannibalized by private schools from as far north as the San Fernando Valley to as far south as Orange County.
Many observers point to Serra as the high school that changed everything. Tonight's game, then, is about more than the two teams on the field. It is the way things are now versus the way things used to be. It is also a perfect showcase for Jojuan's amplified blend of strength and explosiveness—traits that should be an either-or proposition but which he somehow makes an "and."
At first, it appears that with Jojuan in their corner, Dorsey can go the distance. Early in the first quarter, Serra jumps ahead 7-0, only for Dorsey to respond in kind with a 40-yard touchdown pass. Then the levee breaks. Serra pours on 21 unanswered points in the second quarter, then 16 more in the second half. The Dorsey line is stymied. Drives are snuffed out before they can ever begin. The Dons lose 44-7. The next week, Dorsey will fall to another private school powerhouse, St. John Bosco, 69-14.
By all accounts, Jojuan should be playing for one of those wealthy schools. In fact, he spent his freshman year at Santa Ana's Mater Dei High School, one of California's most established and financially blessed football programs. But Dorsey is his neighborhood school. It is exactly where Jojuan wants to be.
"[This is] where I should have come in the first place," Jojuan says. "This is my home. This is where I started."
Is Jojuan Collins part of a new generation of talented kids spurning the advances of big money football programs to stay home, or the last of a dying breed?
Little about Dorsey High School announces itself as one of America's great incubators of NFL talent.
Start with how they train. For much of this past summer, Dorsey's practice field was an unusable checkerboard of too-high tufts and vacant squares of dirt.
"Like a receding hairline on an old person—a patch of grass here and nothing there," says running backs coach Stafon Johnson. "We don't even have lines out there…[We tell the players] 'Go 15 yards!' 'Well, coach, where the hell is 15 yards?'"
Then there's the weight room. The ceiling tiles are water damaged or missing entirely, with rusted steel beams peeking through the gaps. Some of the light tube filaments overhead flicker in and out. Others are burned out entirely. It's been this way for a while now. Thanks to budgetary crises on both the state level as well as in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there's nothing anyone can really do about it.
That grime, however, is juxtaposed with a parade of white banners—a couple dozen at least—each embossed with an NFL shield, the color-coded name of a Dorsey football alumnus, and the NFL franchise for which he once played. Keyshawn Johnson's banner is on the wall opposite the entrance. He's joined by league stalwarts like Na'il Diggs, Dennis Northcutt, Rahim Moore, Sharmon Shah—who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns for the 1997 season playing under the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar—and current Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson, to name a few. That's not counting the part-timers, either, like John Ross, the ninth overall pick in this year's NFL Draft and a Dorsey Don for his first two years of high school. There are more banners than available wall space, a byproduct of Dorsey producing more NFL players than all but two high schools in America.
"They've had some legendary players go through that program," says Greg Biggins, a national analyst for CBS Sports and 247Sports.com who has covered high school football in Southern California for more than 20 years. "It is Los Angeles football."
In many ways, it is Los Angeles itself. To the west is Culver City, a one-time sleepy suburb that has recently blossomed into a chic boomtown. A few miles north is Mid-City, a highly diverse neighborhood favored by millennials. Due south is Baldwin Hills, an affluent, traditionally African-American enclave. And east is the University of Southern California, as well as some of the most gang-riddled streets in the city.
"Dorsey is right here in the middle," says defensive line coach Jovon Hayes. "It's like a melting pot of everybody."
A healthy chunk of the football team hails from the east side. Many are the sons of single parents. Most struggle economically. To them, Dorsey football is less an activity than a society, a place for belonging. Those affiliated with the program refer to themselves as the "Dorsey Dons Posse"—DDP for short—and their ranks span generations. The school's coaches are tacticians, the way they'd be everywhere else, but also fulfill a great number of functions that fall outside the job description.
"Sometimes, you have to be more than a coach," says Ivan Stevenson, Dorsey's defensive backs coach, who by day is a building inspector for the Los Angeles Fire Department. "Sometimes you're the father. You're the big brother. You're the uncle. You're the confidant. You're the counselor, without a PhD."
It's why all but one member of the coaching staff is a Dorsey alumnus, despite only one being a school employee. Officially speaking, a handful are in line for stipends, around $1,500 or so apiece for the season. They usually burn through that cash to subsidize equipment costs or buy dinners for hungry players, which effectively means they work for free. Even Hayes, the only coach employed full time by the school, also teaches history and economics during the day, and works the night shift at a group home for special needs children to make ends meet.
"If this wasn't my alma mater, I wouldn't be here," says Charles Mincy, the team's head coach. A ten-year NFL veteran with his own banner on the wall, he took over the program in 2016 and pads his income with the occasional substitute teaching gig. "I came back around to help because I didn't want the program to go into the dumps."
Which is a very real concern. As recently as a decade ago, public schools like Dorsey retained an inordinately high percentage of the best talent in Los Angeles. It had been that way for generations, nearly ever since their governing body, the City Section, was established by the California Interscholastic Federation in 1936 following a dispute between Los Angeles public schools and the other members of the Southern Section, the oldest and largest athletic body in Southern California.
The result was that high school sports in the area became, in effect, Los Angeles versus everybody. In a region where the actual city of Los Angeles is dwarfed by the sprawl surrounding it, that means David vs. Goliath. At present date, the City Section has 70 high schools that field 11-man football teams, none of which are private, compared to the Southern Section's 396 member schools, some of which are among the wealthiest institutions in the state.
The City Section punched above its weight and by the 1980s, three of its schools became synonymous with the best talent: Dorsey, Carson High School in Carson, and Banning High School in Wilmington. Thirty years later, Banning battles irrelevance. Carson hasn't produced a top prospect since 2012. Dorsey is in far better shape, comparatively, but the production of NFL banners has slowed to a crawl. The blue chippers in their backyards began to suit up elsewhere—not for other City Section rivals, but Southern Section outfits recruiting several zip codes away from their campuses.
Hayes, who played at Arizona from 2006 through 2011, recalls being in college and noticing schools that were once blips on Dorsey's radar were beginning to crush the Dons on Friday nights. "Dorsey lost to who? They're horrible!" he'd think while checking box scores. His former teammates wondered the same thing. Then, on a visit home, he popped into the coaches' office. That's when he learned things had changed for good.
"They started letting us know that private schools are coming in and getting kids that normally would have come to Dorsey," he says. "[The coaches] were like, "'[Kids] aren't in city schools anymore.'"
The first time I ever asked Jojuan Collins a question, his answer stretched on for nearly 15 uninterrupted minutes.
He sat in on a bench in Dorsey's weight room and, twirling a neon orange fidget spinner, meandered from Pop Warner football to his report card, school uniforms to religion. He sometimes talks this way, in long amiable strolls through and around the topic at hand.
There is an unusual lightness to him, the sort that would not seem to reconcile with a 16-year-old who runs so violently on the football field that a defender once slinked out of his way to avoid tackling him. He grew up in the Jungles, the once-infamously hardscrabble projects portrayed in the Denzel Washington movie Training Day. He was short until he turned 11 years old, and he was bullied in school. Then, seemingly overnight, he bloomed into a physical marvel, and so he was challenged to fights by teenagers who wanted to look tough.
Yet those closest to him never worry about whether South Los Angeles might harden him. Instead, they're worried about how gentle and trusting Jojuan can be.
"He has a very soft heart underneath all the muscles," says Joe Jenkins, Collins's grandfather. "His heart is made out of glass."
He sings tenor in the choir and his favorite pastime since the age of 12 is composing love songs with his older sister.
"You don't write with your brain," he says. "You write with your heart. Take out your heart and write with it."
Football was something of a happy accident. Tony Beavers, a family friend whom Collins affectionately calls his "Uncle Tone," is a Pop Warner coach and had tried for years to coax Jojuan into picking up a ball. It never stuck; his nephew preferred to skateboard and play Call of Duty.
That changed on January 8, 2011. Jojuan was ten-years-old and over at Beavers's house during the NFL playoffs. Seattle was playing New Orleans, and he feigned comprehension for the sake of impressing his uncle.
"I was like, 'Who are these people? Seahawks, I'm guessing?' Because it said Seahawks on the jersey. 'I'm going to act like I know who this is,'" he remembers thinking. "I had no idea what a score meant."
His attention waxed and waned until late in the fourth quarter, when Seattle's Marshawn Lynch took a handoff 67 yards for a touchdown. This was the famous "Beast Mode" run, the most iconic moment of the running back's career. Jojuan was entranced.
"I kept rewinding and [playing it back]," he says. "They were chasing me around the house trying to get the controller."
Sitting in the Dorsey weight room six years later, he breaks down the run's components from memory with impressive accuracy, right down to the model of gloves Lynch wore that afternoon in the Superdome.
"I've watched that game so many times, I know it like the back of my hand," he says.
It wasn't long until he put on a jersey for the first time. Naturally, he chose 24 as his number, in honor of Lynch. At age 13, he was starring for the Inland Empire Ducks, one of the Southern California's premier Pop Warner teams, as both a running back and a linebacker. He was already pushing six feet tall and 200 pounds, and his high metabolism blessed him with the muscle definition of athletes well beyond his years. A nickname was born: "Man Child." Ferocious hits became his trademark.
"I'm talking about you've got to describe those hits with words like 'jarred,'" laughs Jadili Damu Johnson, a Dorsey assistant and Pop Warner coach who coached against Jojuan. "Ugly. Nasty."
Two years later, Jojuan says his preferred position depends on the day. "When I'm happy, running back," he says. "When I'm pretty pissed off, linebacker." But deep down, his heart lies on offense. And while he lives to emulate Lynch, every coach interviewed for this story believes Jojuan better compares to Adrian Peterson, the most physically gifted running back of his generation.
"He runs like he's the biggest kid on the playground," says Stevenson. "It's like a 'man amongst boys'-type deal."
Like everyone else who saw Jojuan play Pop Warner, the Dorsey coaches realized that Collins was special. While players from nearly every position are represented in the ring of NFL banners, running back was always the school's glamour position. Stafon Johnson, once a 5-foot-11, 225-pound jackhammer, parlayed his talents at Dorsey into a full scholarship at USC and a three-year NFL career with the Tennessee Titans before he returned to coach running backs at his alma mater.
"The natural power, the natural speed—stuff you can't teach," Johnson says. "He understands he's a [physical] specimen and he can do certain things, but I don't think he understands how good he could be."
The Dorsey coaching staff does. For the previous two seasons, the star of the program was a defensive end named Kayvon Thibodeaux, who transferred in midway through his freshman year from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, one of the city's foremost private school powerhouses. It only took a handful of games for everyone to label Thibodeaux a program-changing talent. After less than a calendar year, he was named the top-ranked player in the class of 2019. His impact was made even more significant by the circumstances of his arrival: he'd left the neighborhood for a private school, like most prospects of his ilk now do, but then he returned.
Until, that is, Thibodeaux transferred again in May to Oaks Christian, a private school powerhouse located in Westlake Village. No one at Dorsey saw it coming.
But around the time Thibodeaux bowed out, Jojuan—an old Pop Warner rival of Thibodeaux's—arrived. Now he is primed to pick up where Thibodeaux left off, a throwback to an era where the best talent in the inner city played where they came from. It's not just the backstories that are similar, either.
"Big-time, big-time guy," Biggins says. "Everything is there for him to be a superstar."
Says Stevenson, "When it's all said and done, Jojuan will be the number one player in the nation."
It's hard to pinpoint when, exactly, the balance of power began to shift away from inner city. But the most commonly accepted flash point occurred in 2009, with the emergence of a wide receiver named Robert Woods.
Woods was arguably the most dynamic player the region had seen in years, an eventual All-American at USC who later became a second-round NFL draft pick and today suits up for the Los Angeles Rams. He also grew up right around the corner from Carson High School, where it was assumed he'd one day play.
Instead, he enrolled at Serra, then a nondescript private school in Gardena. Woods had family ties to the school—his older sister, Olivia, was two grade levels ahead of him—but it wasn't long before he was joined by a staggering amount of the city's top talent. Marqise Lee, another USC All-American and NFL second-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, came in from Inglewood. Paul Richardson, now of the Seattle Seahawks, transferred in as a senior. On and on it went, until Serra became the de facto school of choice for the best players in the city.
An overwhelming amount of success followed: Serra went 15-0 in 2009 to win their first of two state championships in four years. From 2007 through 2013, the Cavaliers posted a combined record of 87-10. Their reach even extended nationally. Adoree' Jackson, yet another USC All-American and a first-round draft pick in this year's NFL Draft, moved all the way from East St. Louis to attend the school.
"I think with the success of Serra, the private schools started taking notice," Stevenson says. "All of these schools basically took a page out of their book: Tap into the inner city. You look at any successful private school program, they have at least five kids who are from the inner city on their roster, guaranteed."
Imitators bubbled up swiftly. St. John Bosco didn't post a winning season from 2005 through 2010. In 2013, they posted a perfect 16-0 record, won a state championship and graduated arguably the most star-studded senior class in state history by signing seven players to Pac-12 schools. They haven't won fewer than 12 games in a season since.
Chaminade, a private school in West Hills, hired a renowned City Section coach in 2009 and then went 47-9 from 2011 through 2014. Bishop Mora Salesian, in Boyle Heights, lept from a 2-8 doormat to three straight double-digit winning seasons. Traditional powers like Mater Dei and Oaks Christian added reinforcements.
"I call it, 'The private school year," says Junie Rivero, Dorsey's special teams coach. "All of them always have their year where they're super-hot and everyone wants to go to those schools."
Private schools have some structural advantages: they can use tuition to raise capital, are not subjected to public school budgets, and can enroll students from anywhere. But the institutional benefits of playing in the resource-flush Southern Section also worked in their favor. Even a few Southern Section public schools like Corona's Centennial High School, Calabasas High School, and Long Beach Polytechnic High School began to entice inner city talent to move to their districts.
"It's just not a level playing field," Biggins says. "The Southern Section has so many built-in advantages… In terms of city coaches, there are five stipends [per team] versus 12 for Southern Section coaches… 12 guys and a full-time strength and conditioning program, year-round, versus these guys who don't even have a weight room. How do you compete with that?"
Those edges come into play long before those schools ever meet on Friday nights. They are spoken of and leveraged every time a player like Jojuan Collins emerges as a middle school prospect.
"You go to a local Pop Warner game and there's, I guess you could call them, 'Friends of the program'" Biggins continues. "Every school basically has a guy who is kind of the one who is able to sell your program, talk about and once you get the kid on campus for what they call a 'prospect day,' that's when the selling starts to take place."
If that sounds eerily similar to college football recruiting, that's because it is. "That world can get to money, quick," Damu Johnson says. "Now you're seeing, in eighth grade… is there some incentive given to get this guy we know is going to be the number one guy in college at some point?... It's an actual business."
The points of entry are volunteer youth football coaches. The inducement? Funnel the best players on your team in exchange for a full-time paying position with the program.
"It's always tied to a Pop Warner coach," Stevenson says. "In the inner city, the drug game has dried up. Rap game is drying up. What's the next-best hustle for someone without a job? Hustle kids."
For the players and parents on the receiving end of those pitches, the result is an ecosystem shaped by perception and unverifiable promises.
"Your high school decision is pretty much based off of what you think you know and not exactly what you know," says Isaiah Smalls, Dorsey's star tight end who has made a verbal commitment to play college at Oregon State. "You just know what you see. 'Oh, that kid is getting scholarships at that school, I want to go there. I want to go to that school.'"
Sometimes the reality is different once they arrive on campus. Playing-time promises aren't fulfilled, or the academic environment wasn't what they were expecting. Perhaps they don't fit in culturally among students with vastly different backgrounds and home lives. In other cases, the tuition stops being affordable for students who are only on partial aid. A transfer becomes the best option, which is where things get more complicated.
For years, the CIF charter forbade transfers for athletically-motivated reasons. Then, in April, a rule was revised to permit athletically-motivated transfers, theoretically paving the way for players like Jojuan to switch schools more easily.
But schools still have recourse to contest transfers, usually through claiming "undue influence"—that is, some illegal enticement to lure a player elsewhere. It's the sort of accusation that, wielded by a private school against a city school, would seem baseless.
Yet according to James G. Schwartz, a Bay Area attorney whose firm has handled CIF-related cases for more than 15 years, "the committee looks at transfers with a jaundiced eye." Appeals of blocked transfers, meanwhile, are extraordinarily difficult to win. In his time dealing with the CIF, Schwartz has seen everything from appellate panels composed of members who did not understand the charter to rules that went completely unenforced. The letter of the law, then, matters far less than who is enforcing it and how inclined they are to hammer a point home.
"Whether or not...after 15 or 20 years, they're going to change their mindset, I don't know," Schwartz says.
The endgame dramatically favors the first school where a player enrolls—which, in Los Angeles, increasingly means somewhere in the Southern Section. Consequently, Biggins says, "I feel like it's easier for kids to leave [the inner city] than come in, which again goes with [it] not [being] a level playing field."
The costs are not just borne out on the field.
"For some of these kids from the inner city, let's be honest: This is their only ticket to get into a college," Stevenson says. "It's the only ticket." Constricting their freedom of movement, or eligibility thereafter, jeopardizes that. The system has yet to correct itself. Dorsey estimates they had five incoming transfers contested in the past calendar year alone.
"The playing field is like politics," Stevenson says. "It's never going to be even for the guy who puts on his work boots every day versus the guy who puts on his wingtips every day."
By the time Jojuan finished eighth grade, he had established himself as one of the most sought-after middle school prospects. The legend of "Man Child" had spread.
"When you look like a man already, then people are going to know who you are whether you've taken a snap or not," Biggins says.
Consequently, Jackie Jenkins had no shortage of private schools interested in Jojuan, many of which offered significant financial aid to defray expenses.
She saw Mater Dei, a private Catholic school in Santa Ana with annual tuition cost of $16,050—the number drops to $14,650 for Catholic students—as the best opportunity. Founded in 1950, few schools in Southern California have married academics and athletics so successfully. Every year, Mater Dei places alumni in colleges throughout the country, to say nothing of their healthy representation in the University of California system, USC, and Stanford.
The football team, meanwhile, has produced two Heisman Trophy winners and, as of this writing, is the number one-ranked team in the country. Its star wide receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown, is regarded as one of the two best high school seniors in the country at his position. Its star quarterback, J.T. Daniels, rivals Kayvon Thibodeaux as the best high school junior at any position.
It seemed to be the best of all worlds, a private education with the type of football program that could nurture Jojuan's talent enough to punch his ticket to any college he wanted to go to.
Jojuan was excited, and bewildered. For all his prowess on the field, he says it took until high school for him to understand exactly what he could do. The prospect of being able to attend a school like this, all the way in Orange County, seemed unbelievable in the truest sense of the word.
"This high school does all this stuff and they want me to come here?" he says, recalling his mindset at the time. "Me? Out of all these kids?"
His mother was warier. A year earlier, she had Jojuan repeat his eighth-grade year. His grades were flagging and she wasn't comfortable sending him to high school. "If you bring their report card with D's on it and C's, that's hold-back material for me," she says. "He wasn't doing what he was supposed to do."
Denverly Grant, a friend of Jojuan's uncle Tony and the mom of a Pop Warner teammate, offered to take him in and homeschool him alongside her own children for the next year. With Grant, his grades began to creep upwards. Still, the prospect of thrusting him back into a regular environment at such a competitive school concerned Jackie. She wondered whether Mater Dei was the right fit. She also wondered how she, an in-home care nurse and a single mother to three children, could ever turn it down.
"When you are living in low-budget or whatever, when someone comes to you and tells you that your son can go here, what are you going to do?" Jackie Jenkins says. "Are you going to say, 'Hell no?' You're not going to say that… I felt like that was a chance of a lifetime. I wanted my son to be involved in that."
And so he went. On the field, things went well. Jojuan thrived as the star running back on Mater Dei's freshman team, and made a brief cameo on varsity to end the season. His physique and skillset already manifested enough for the first wave of scholarship offers to roll in. A larger role beckoned.
He came to appreciate the school's diversity. Perhaps his favorite aspect was the social environment, which was unlike anything he experienced.
"I was always one of those shy kids and I started opening up," he says. "I'm going to different neighborhoods, [hanging with] people I've never met before and I'm trusting them. My life and everything, it was just amazing, because I used to go around and see, 'This is what this is like. This is what this is like.'"
Jackie understood that while maintaining his grades in a public school environment had been challenging enough for her son, the rigors of Mater Dei would place even greater demands on Jojuan. It would also be difficult for her to watch over him. The campus was a long drive away from the family's apartment and she was working long hours.
She gained comfort in the knowledge that there were multiple coaches from Jojuan's Pop Warner team who either coached at Mater Dei or had children there. She claims she made repeated requests to the Mater Dei coaching staff asking that if her son's grades were suffering, they bench him so he could have extra time to focus on his studies. She trusted them to keep a mindful eye on her only son.
"I thought we were a big family," she says.
However, she alleges, Mater Dei staffers would often minimize the degree to which Jojuan was struggling academically, and even went so far as to tell her that benching him would be tantamount to a forfeit. Jackie claims that it took until nearly the end of the semester for her to learn that Jojuan was failing nearly all of his classes.
Citing California's Right to Privacy laws as well as school policy, a Mater Dei representative declined to address specific questions about Jojuan Collins, instead providing VICE Sports with a statement that read in part:
"We treat all of our students with the same caring and compassion regardless of their athletic ability, while also striving to include and provide every student with a space and facilities that allow them to reach their fullest potential both on and off the field. While we are extremely proud of our rich athletic tradition at Mater Dei, we hold our students to a higher standard both academically and personally. The student in question was a freshman and per CIF rules all freshmen are eligible to play football at the start of the season. We provided [Collins] with the maximum opportunities to receive academic guidance and assistance provided to any MD student."
For his part, Jojuan accepts that, regardless of the time commitment that football represented, at least some of the responsibility for his low grades falls upon him. "I tried to pull my grades up," he says. "I wasn't able to. I made some bad decisions."
With finals looming, Jackie decided to withdraw Jojuan from Mater Dei in December. It meant forfeiting the entire semester's worth of credits, something she believes was fait accompli with how low his GPA already was. "At this point, what the heck would a final do for you?" she says.
Almost immediately, she received offers from other private schools interested in Jojuan's talents. She claims some went as far as to offer to relocate her, as well admit Jojuan's younger sister. Jackie wasn't interested.
"It's like, you know what? I've had enough," she says. "My thirst was already quenched. I didn't want anything else to do with a private school."
This time, Jackie opted to enroll him at Dorsey, just a few minutes down the road. It would take months for him to be declared eligible at Dorsey. But when the season began in August, Jojuan was decked out in his new green and white #24 jersey.
He says he has no hard feelings towards anyone at Mater Dei. His family, on the other hand, still feels misled.
"Simply because it was a private school, I just thought that he had a better shot at education," Joe Jenkins, Jojuan's grandfather, says. "I can only say that Mater Dei disappoints me. The reason they disappoint me was I had a child who is very good in football and it ended up Mater Dei giving me the impression that he was better at football than he was learning. I think it should have been the other way around… All they want is football out of you. They don't really want to work with you. They just want football."
Jojuan ended the Serra game averaging six yards per carry. It was not enough. This is the new order of things. It's what's supposed to happen now that the private schools have won.
"The City Section is dying," Stevenson says. "The well is getting dry because everyone's getting pulled out."
Financially, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. The most sweeping legislative change capable of leveling the playing field—a mandate that students play for the high school in their most immediate neighborhood—is impossible. There's no telling whether there's enough documented impropriety to investigate Pop Warner recruiting and school transfers, or whether such a probe would amount to anything.
So, as is too often the case in areas without resources, the undue burden of survival falls on individuals to succeed where the system has failed. For Dorsey, that means it's up to the DDP to keep them afloat.
"As long as the dudes right here, in this room here [stay], we're going to be alright," says Mincy, the Dons' head coach. "As long as we've got those community people holding this thing down, we're going to be OK. But once they go... I'm trying to find ways to get these dudes compensated for their time just so it doesn't blow up."
"How long can you do it with your money?" Stevenson asks. "How much can you do with less resources? How much can you tell a parent, 'We're going to provide X, Y, and Z for your kid,' and you go get your bank account statement and you're like, 'Shit, I'm behind on X-amount of bills because I did this?'"
He doesn't have an answer. But he doesn't see himself anywhere else. "I can't preach about kids leaving the area and I leave also," Stevenson says. He knows, however, that the same doesn't necessarily apply in return.
It has only been six months since Kayvon Thibodeaux left. Who's to say Jojuan Collins won't do the same?
"At the end of the day, you always have it in the back of your mind," Stevenson admits.
Jojuan says his loyalties lie with Dorsey. He has seen the other side of things and believes that what he needs was in his backyard all along. If that makes him the start of something bigger, so be it. For now, he's just like any other 16-year-old, taking comfort in finally being back home.
"I'm able to walk in my neighborhood and get that feeling like, 'This is where I started. This is where it all went down, and this is where I'm going to end my high school [career]," he says.
As of this writing, Jojuan has as many touchdowns (11) as the Dons' second- and third-placed players combined. His grades have rebounded. There is work to be done, still, but his mother believes that there is no place better equipped to support him than Dorsey.
"All we can provide is a family atmosphere," Stevenson says.