What began as a car ride conversation between DFW-based trainer Montrel Duckett and former Aledo High School running back Johnathan Gray quickly turned into the beginnings of the pair’s new youth mentoring and athletic training program, Beyond the Ball.
A system focusing not only on young athletes’ agility and strength training, but helping them make the transition to successful careers after sports, Beyond the Ball stands as Duckett and Gray’s opportunity to do what they are both passionate about, helping kids.
Duckett and Gray had known of each other for a long time. However, when a joint business opportunity presented itself, the pair got a chance to sit down and discuss their shared passion.
Ultimately, Duckett and Gray decided to forge ahead on their own as partners.
“We got to talking about it and everything that I wanted and desired to make a difference, it aligned with what Johnathan was doing, and we were like, ‘Why don’t we do [this],’” Duckett said.
“We’re both passionate about making a difference, passionate about children.”
That passion for helping local kids is something each of them discovered a long time ago, albeit in different ways.
“The interesting thing is that my dad was a Baptist minister,” Duckett said.
“He instilled some stuff in me, but I didn’t quite get it when I was young. He used to do street preaching. Then, he had to do it, and he was dragging me along this journey, and when he passed away, I really understood what my purpose was. He told me, ‘You’re ignoring your calling. You keep running from God.’ After he passed, I really wanted to dive into it and say, ‘You know what, there’s people out there that need my help, that can benefit from my story.’”
“I want to say I was a sophomore in high school,” Gray said.
“When Coach [Tim Buchanan] Buck volunteered our time to seven-on-seven with the younger kids in Aledo, and we saw the joy on their faces, it’s like we had an opportunity to do something special,” Gray said.
“I always thought to myself, I was always that kid that age looking for somebody to guide me and give that mentorship on and off the field, other than my dad. Seeing that look on those kids’ faces brought something to me, ‘Once I get done playing football, I think this will be my passion.’ After meeting Montrell, I was like, ‘This is what I want.’”
In Duckett and Gray’s eyes, having different stories to offer is actually a boon for trying to reach out to kids.
“Obviously we’ve had two different stories, two different journeys,” Duckett said.
“Putting those journeys together gives two different dynamics of success, and failures. I’ve been able to fail, succeed, fail, and then succeed again. Johnathan has had success on the field, off the field. I think both of us have a story to offer kids of what to do, and what not to do. I too was a pretty good athlete in high school, played a little bit in college but not enough to talk about, and I squandered those opportunities. I’ve shared that with him, and Johnathan was like, ‘Kids can use that.’ So we decided to get into mentoring and athletic training. Johnathan’s been working with some of the same kids I’ve been working with.”
While the pair’s individual journeys up to this point have been notably different, their shared commitment to helping guide young athletes in the right direction aligns perfectly.
“My mother was an addict,” Duckett said.
“I’m from the projects. We had nothing. We didn’t have guidance, we didn’t’ have access. All colors, I’m not excluding anyone, I think people who are lower class just don’t have the access and tools they need to move forward in life. I want to be that tool [to them] that says, ‘Hey, you can make it out of this community. There’s something outside of this.’ Second, third generation of projects kids. How does that happen. Well, they never see anything different. Mother, father all came up in poverty. And they don’t get to see the other side. What success looks like. And I wanted different. I’ve always sat with the people who weren’t getting much attention, special needs kids, I’ve always done it.”
Gray echoed his partner’s statements.
“We got to talking about how we want to help these kids transition, not only in football, basketball, baseball or any sport they play, but [past] their respective sports,” Gray said.
“How can they become a real estate agent or doctor. Something like that outside of sports, because that ends, and when you become 35 years old you have to start making another career. And that’s what we want to preach to these kids and just be an extension of their parents as sports come to an end. You have to start banking on your career, and that’s what we want to get into the kids now, while you’re playing sports, you can also start working on your career.”
Duckett works with athletes on strength training, while Gray takes the lead on agility training.
However, both men are committed to helping their athletes through more than sports.
“Sometimes we’ll stop the weights and have a 30-minute conversation,” Duckett said.
“A lecture of this or that, because the physical can be great, but if the mental is not strong, you’ll go nowhere, and I’m a prime example of that. I could have run a 4.4 [40-yard dash] walking out of my pajamas, but my mental wasn’t strong. I had all the physical tools, but not the mental tools, and it’s just because I didn’t have guidance. My dad was an evangelist, so he traveled a lot. My mom was an addict, and we were living in a community where the older fellas in town were more interested in getting me into trouble instead of keeping me out of it. I want to pass that down to someone, even if it’s one or two people.”
Duckett and Gray hope to reach kids from all walks of life, saying that regardless of access or innate talent, all young athletes have a chance to find success in their sports and careers with enough hard work and someone to push them.
“I’ve seen both sides of it, and I think both sides need help,” Duckett said.
“I’ve worked with kids that have all the access they need, but they don’t appreciate it. And that’s my job, to show them, this is what you could have, but your parents are providing a beautiful place for you to live, you have access you need and want. And on this side, there’s hope. I come from where they’re from. And the biggest thing I tell my kids is, black or white, you can’t be scared of our people. Because a lot of times people don’t want to see the other side, they ignore it. I look at everybody as my people.”
Gray stressed the importance of being one’s own person, something that can sometimes get lost in the age of social media.
“With a lot of social media and TV and what’s portrayed, nowadays, everybody wants to be the person who has money or the person who’s famous,” Gray said.
“But I think they read too much into it. So for kids nowadays to say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna just get here based on my athletic ability,’ well, it’s hard to say you can’t do that, because there are some guys who play professional sports who are just getting by off that talent. But eventually, that always comes to an end, so what we’re trying to teach these kids is, be your own person. That other person over there, his life is his life, your life is your life. You can’t think that your life is theirs and necessarily get what he gets. It doesn’t work that way. So what we try to instill is, you’re a good athlete now, but there’s somebody outworking you without any talent, and so when you meet each other, who’s gonna win? He is, because he works harder than you. So now that’s kind of in the kid’s mind, and now we’re trying to bridge that gap with that hard working person and that person that has talent.”
“I think these kids that we’re trying to reach out to, the majority of them, rich or poor, their backs are against the wall,” Duckett said.
“Either it’s too much expectation, or there’s none. Either way, your back is against the wall. Parents are expecting college, parents are expecting athletic scholarships because they paid all this money. And then over here, it’s hopeless. How am I gonna survive and eat the next day? Either way, they’re both fighting for the same thing.”
Duckett and Gray are committed to standing next to those young athletes in that fight.
For more information about Beyond the Ball, email firstname.lastname@example.org.