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May 19, 2011
AACS athlete Jalloh preaches faith and football
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last."
(Book of Revelation, Chapter 1, verse 8)
The joke in the Jalloh family is that their son, Alpha Jalloh, was named after the one and only: God.
It's not true. The name wasn't a Christian appellation the Jallohs decided to bestow upon their child. Rather, the moniker came from Alpha's aunt, who lived in Sierra Leone in West Africa. Moreover, unlike the Western definition of Alpha - "the first" - in Africa the name means "leader."
"So there really is no connection at all with Alpha and Omega or Christ or anything like that," chuckled Jalloh, a junior athlete from Annapolis Area Christian School. "But I wish it did."
In an age where more and more young people are turning away from Christianity - and religion in general - Alpha Jalloh embraces it. To Jalloh, his faith is the reason for his being.
It's the reason he's had a good life and a strong family; it's the reason he's been able to overcome a series of downturns; it's the reason for his awesome physical gifts, from his 4.5 40-yard dash speed to his pillow-soft hands; and it's the reason he's a star receiver-cornerback at Annapolis Area Christian School.
"With Alpha, his faith is his desire," said his football coach, Ken Lucas. "Now, he doesn't run around campus saying, 'Praise the Lord,' but he openly displays his spirituality and love for the Lord. He doesn't hold that close to his chest. He'll let you know how he feels."
There are plenty of so-called evangelists out there who can talk the talk. But Jalloh literally walks the walk.
He attends Bible study classes on a weekly basis, goes to church multiple times a week, reads scripture in his free time, volunteers at Christian charities and is part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes..
His iPod beats out tunes from Josh Wilson and Tenth Avenue North - popular Christian groups - but you won't see any Rick James or Jay-Z. He'll spend his Friday nights hanging out with friends, but you'll never see him at a party where there might be alcohol or drugs. He might say "gosh darn-it" once in a while, but you'll never hear him utter a cuss word.
That way of life even carries over to the football field. Jalloh makes a point to cross himself every time he leaves the huddle and points to the sky whenever he reaches the end zone.
"He's an all-around good guy," said his teammate, Malique Johnson. "A lot of kids look up to him. He's a leader with his positive attitude and his faith."
Jalloh wasn't always a devoted follower, however. At least, not until his freshman year at Parkdale High in Prince George's County.
Several years before he arrived at AACS, Jalloh had hit the nadir of his young life when a mistake on his eighth-grade transcript - he was given an "E" in English - cost him his football eligibility. Without his favorite sport he went into semi-depression, spending most of his days brooding by himself.
But in the winter Jalloh experienced a revelation when he decided to try out for the wrestling team. That's when he met Samuel Yirenkyi.
"My parents really never pushed me to follow my faith, but Sam was always urging me," Jalloh said. "No matter what happened to him - win or lose, good days or bad days -- he praised Christ. It made him a better person. I saw how good it felt and how God could help you. So I decided to become a follower, too."
Jalloh's new outlook immediately started paying dividends. Not only did he have a better attitude and fewer outside distractions, but he also devoted himself to helping others, raising his grades and perfecting his talents. The latter two qualities ensured he'd be eligible for football his sophomore year.
But life isn't a fairy tale full of smooth rides and straight roads. Jalloh did play football that year, but it wasn't exactly how he envisioned it.
Although Jalloh felt he had earned a varsity spot, the coaches placed him on jayvee. On top of that, several of his teammates rubbed him the wrong way with their lackadaisical attitudes.
Jalloh felt he no longer fit at Parkdale, so he decided to transfer to Annapolis Area Christian.
"I accomplished a lot at Parkdale, but I didn't want to be in that environment," Jalloh said. "There were a lot of unmotivated people there who didn't want to work or get the grades. At AACS, the students have the grades and all of them strive to be better. That's where I wanted to be."
With his faith in hand and new teammates and coaches by his side, Jalloh thrived at AACS. Lucas, for his part, was enamored with Jalloh's character as well as his talent.
The coach recalled his first practice when his new 6-foot-1, 185-pound receiver/safety/punt returner lit up the field with a barrage of circus catches that elicited a few oohs and ahhhs from the players.
"From Day One, he showed special gifts," Lucas said. "You could just tell by the way he moved. Then his work ethic was unparalleled. He showed such a strong desire to succeed and a passion for the game."
The numbers don't necessarily show it, but Jalloh had a major impact on AACS' 10-0 MIAA-C Conference championship season. On defense, he recorded 40 tackles and an interception. Then, as a receiver in a run-first offense, he had 18 catches for around 250 yards and two touchdowns.
"Don't let the numbers full you, Alpha was a big asset for us," Johnson said. "He's an athlete. He's always doing something to impact the game. He made the most of the opportunities he did have."
Witness the second Pallotti game last year. Jalloh only had one pass thrown in his direction, but he delivered like a Fed-Ex man with an express package.
On first down from the AACS 33-yard line, Jalloh ran a go-route down the sideline. The Pallotti safety read the play and made a bee-line for the ball. As soon as the pass arrived, the safety launched himself into Jalloh's shoulder. But the big receiver somehow managed to keep his balance.
"Eight of 10 other kids drop that pass," Lucas said. "Phenomenal catch."
The play wasn't over. After snaring the pass, Jalloh wobbled slightly, turned around and then made a dash for the end zone. He out-raced three defenders for a 57-yard touchdown.
"Oh man, how could I forget that play?" Jalloh said. "Probably the best play I made."
On the football field, perhaps.
But what Jalloh has been able to do off the field is more significant then any touchdown catch. He's taken something like religion, which has lost its significance in much of society, and made it relevant.
"He rubs off on everyone," Johnson said. "I'm a transfer from Glen Burnie and really didn't think much about my faith. But coming here to AACS and meeting Alpha, it strengthened my relationship with God."
Johnson explained how Jalloh does little things everyday that you might not see from a typical high schooler. He recalled how two AACS students got into a shouting match in the hallway in-between classes. Jalloh calmly approached them, spoke to each individual and diffused the situation.
"Because he's a football player, and because he's a pretty popular athlete, the kids tend to listen to him," Lucas said. "What he's doing is showing his peers that it's OK to express your faith. He's saying, 'Hey, this is cool.' So from that perspective, he's shown a lot of leadership. That's going to take him far in life."
Jalloh has already gone far on the football field. He has a scholarship offer from Division I-AA school Bryant, and many scouts project him as a Division-I player.
Whether or not he actually reaches that plateau is questionable. But there are some parts of Jalloh's future that are written. Namely, his faith in God: the Alpha and the Omega.
"Whatever happens, I will always put God first," Jalloh said. "In my life, He is No. 1."