Capitol Christian Academy football coach Terry White wanted to test his players’ strength before fall practices got too far underway, but the team had no weight room.
So, coaches set up weight benches and weights outside Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville, where Capitol Christian had been practicing. They set up two stations, a 135-pound bench press for underclassmen and a 185-pound bench press for upperclassmen.
Jaylen Harris waited quietly as his teammates went through their lifts. When his turn came, he informed his coaches 185 pounds would be too light for him.
They’d already exhausted their weights to set up these makeshift lifts, so Harris had to wait until the underclassmen finished to combine weights.
With everyone watching, Harris did 27 reps, as he recalled. (White pegged it at 34.)
“That’s college already,” White said. “In fact, that’s borderline NFL right there. He’s a very powerful young man.
“Everybody that was out there was just in absolute awe,” White said. “And his mannerism and his attitude about it was so nonchalant, like, ‘OK, why is everybody looking at me?’”
Now, Harris is one of several talented Capitol Christian players trying to get looked at — by college coaches.
Harris, a fifth-year senior, played junior varsity at Friendship Collegiate Academy then transferred to Surrattsville where he sat out his sophomore year and then played two varsity seasons. As a senior, he was rated as the state’s strongest player at the coaches’ association combine, according to Surrattsville coach Robert Harris. Jaylen Harris had interest from Middle Tennessee State, Howard, Towson, Bowie State, Virginia State and Virginia Military Institute and made the All-Gazette second team. Six-foot-5 and 340 pounds, he also has athleticism reminiscent of his late uncle, Len Bias, the Maryland basketball player who died two days after the Boston Celtics drafted him No. 2 overall.
Yet, knowing he’d need to spend another year elsewhere to get his grades up, Harris disenrolled from Surrattsville last school year.
It seems everyone on the Warriors’ rag-tag team — including breakout juniors, quarterback Reggie Robinson and running back Davon Julian, and senior Marcus Byrd, who transferred mid-season from Mount Saint Joseph — has a story for why Capitol Christian offers the opportunity they needed.
But they’ve come together to go 6-0 and hope to preserve their undefeated record when they close their season Friday at McDonough.
“We’re like the Bad News Bears,” White said. “I’m not surprised one day if (Capitol Christian founder and headmaster Van Whitfield) writes a book about this team. Most teams start a football program from the ground. We started under the ground. We didn’t have any equipment. We had no field. We had no schoolhouse. We had no locker room. We had no footballs. We had nothing.”
For his part, Harris said the school’s SAT-prep courses have helped him. Described as “a great kid” by Robert Harris, Jaylen Harris spent the summer interning with the Upper Marlboro Courthouse’s court reporters, working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days per week.
“I have a lot of friends at Surrattsville right in my neighborhood, so I thought it was more of a distraction,” Harris said. “It was a lot of people that weren’t really focused on academics.”
Byrd was another player who needed a fresh start.
Claiming offers from Massachusetts, Marshall, Towson, Stony Brook, Old Dominion, Eastern Michigan and Boston College and interest from Maryland, North Carolina State, Byrd became Capitol Christian’s highest-profile recruit when he transferred. He said he didn’t worry about going to a fledgling program and having his recruiting fall off.
“By me coming here and putting the school on the map, being already a kid with a couple offers, I thought that would help the school,” Byrd said. “It didn’t really affect it. Coaches know where I’m at.”
Byrd even said Julian was invited by Maryland coaches to attend a game with him earlier this season, the type of attention Capitol Christian is trying to get for its players.
“It’s on the rise,” Byrd said. “There’s going to be some red flags about it for people who don’t even know, but you’ve got coaches that care, who are going to do their best for you, who’s going to bring you up as a football player and teach you the game, just overall coach you up, father-son-type feeling. It’s a good program, up and coming, and I would expect it to be on the radar the next couple years.”