Austin-East Roadrunners raising awareness for veteran suicide

High School

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The Roadrunners continue to condition at a safe distance—preparing for a hopeful high school football season this year.

While some of the team puts in work in the weight room, the other half is divided into groups in their position—running drills and routes, spread out across the field socially distanced.

For the next 22 days, there’s a new group workout that closes out practice that not only builds strength but raises awareness.

Austin-East’s new head coach Antonio Mays received a text from his colleague at Austin-East, who is a veteran and works with the ROTC, educating him on the alarming statistic that an estimated 22 veterans every day die by suicide.

He then challenged Mays to participate in the 22-push-up challenge to raise awareness. As a former defensive coordinator with Austin-East football, Mays started to think about the program’s military ties.

“Veterans go and fight so we can play football,” said Mays, “Veterans go and fight so we can be free. Regardless of what your belief is, regardless of what your political stance is, those veterans are risking their lives for us so the least we can do is 22 push-ups.”

At the end of practice for the past few days the entire team forms in a large circle, each 6 feet apart, doing the push-ups together as a team.

“I was too afraid to go into the military,” said coach reflecting on his past and the significance of the challenge, “I said all the time I wanted to play football I didn’t want to go into the military. I didn’t want to risk my life, I wanted to play ball, so those men and women did something that I was afraid to do.”

Mays recognizes the significance of this challenge, and the importance it has to their program. The national guard will workout with the team, “Sarge” with ROTC program helps with the football team, a cornerback on the team is already to going to the military next year and a coach on last year’s team is a veteran.

“It’s in the bloodline here at Austin-East,” said Mays.

Along with being the head coach for Austin-East football, Mays is an 11th grade college career access coach for Project GRAD. Passionate about mentoring young men and women, Mays continues to set the standard of success both on and off of the football field at Austin-East.  

“Us as head coaches we have to understand our influence, which means we have to do the right thing,” said Mays.

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