The Atlantic High School football team accomplished many big moments both on and off the field during the coaching tenure of TJ Jackson.
Those moments were on full display recently in a documentary, “I Will Soar” at a private screening for Jackson and many of his former and current players at the Delray Beach IPIC theater. The screening included a red carpet for the athletes and coaches.
Jackson, who was raised in Delray Beach, said it was great to see the players and the work that John (Sturdy) put into the film. About 100 guests who were a part of the film attended the event that was sponsored by IPIC. Chocolate chip cookies, popcorn and beverages were served during the film.
“I saw a sneak peek of it, but they revised it a lot from what I saw,” said Jackson, who in February announced that he was stepping down at Atlantic and taking a defensive line coaching position at Charleston Southern University. “I hadn’t seen some of my (former) players since graduation or right when they went off to college. That was before COVID.”
He arrived shortly before the movie started so the reunion started a little later.
“It always great to see all of the kids and staff members that you spent hours working alongside to help support the kids,” Jackson said. “It was a blessing to see all of the work that people in the community had done for the kids. There were just so many people involved from when I first started to this year. It was great with the documentary to see the body of work from everybody who was involved from day one.”
During Jackson’s eight-year tenure, the Eagles went 68-23 and made the playoffs each year from 2014-2019. Jackson’s teams went 14-6 in postseason play. Atlantic finished as the Class 7A state runner-up in 2017, falling to Orlando Dr. Phillips in the state title game. Atlantic did not play in the Florida High School Athletic Association state series this past season, but the Eagles won the Class 7A Tri-County championship.
“I am going to miss the athletes and the people in the community that cared about me and the kids,” Jackson said. “I won’t miss all of the travel that went into the high school. I appreciate everyone’s support of the kids.
“Every year I had (college) opportunities,” Jackson said. “This was the right time, the right situation and the right person. It’s was God’s decision for me to move on in my life.”
Jane Swanko, an author, producer and motivational speaker, was invited to talk to the team four years ago and never left. She volunteers and works with the graduating seniors on etiquette as well as transitioning them to college. Swanko teamed with cinematographer John Sturdy and filmed the documentary in true cinéma verité, allowing those involved with the program to tell the story of the team’s success both on and off the field.
Swanko said 80% of the students at the school live at or below the poverty level.
Jackson, who played at Virginia Tech where he earned a business degree, said winning off the field, in the classroom and in the community was just as important as results on the field.
The documentary explores his success in guiding the many players who live fatherless, delivering the nurturing and strength they need to graduate and be successful in life.
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“It was really cool getting to see all of the film they had on us and all of the years that we can’t get back because high school went by really fast,” said Delray Beach’s Henry Bryant, 20, a 5-foot-11-inch, 275-pound defensive tackle, who is entering his second year at the University of Louisville. He graduated from Atlantic in 2019. “It was nice to relive those moments after watching the movie.
“We always keep in touch with each other by text or Snapchat and we have each other on social media and stuff,” Bryant said. “We never really planned to hang out because everyone is really busy, so it was nice to get together and watch the film. It was nice to get face to face again because the last year has been crazy.”
COVID-19 delayed the premiere of the film that was initially set to debut last year.
“I think everything you have to wait for makes it more exciting,” Bryant said. “It took so long, like three years, to make the film. I think every couple of seconds we remembered things that were in the film and we looked at each other and laughed. It was also great to see coach TJ because he means a lot to me and the program. He is a great leader and always wanted nothing but the best for everyone. I know he would do anything for his players. He was a positive ball of energy.”
As the credits rolled on his high school chapter, Bryant said he is looking forward to the next.
“I graduated early (from Atlantic), so I was at Louisville in January,” he said. “I got to experience a little bit of college before COVID really hit in March just before spring break. COVID affected everything for everybody. I wanted the full experience of college. We missed out on the full working out and being with teammates. It was hard but I am ready to get going again.”