Gridiron Gratitude: Former star athletes give back to Yazoo City High School

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Two former Yazoo City High School star athletes return home to provide life lessons in the classroom and on the gridiron.

After graduating high school in 2013, Marvin Grady Jr. and Rico McCullum both attended Belhaven University in Jackson where they played football and found their calling as teachers and coaches.  Both made the decision to return to Yazoo City this year to invest their time in the community that raised them.

Marvin Grady Jr. is the son of Marvin Grady Sr. and Mary Grady, and the proud husband of Shannon Grady.

While at Yazoo City High School, Grady won several awards as a football player, such as Offensive Lineman MVP, and was also recognized as the Most Outstanding Player by another former Yazoo City athlete, NFL great Fletcher Cox.

Grady's success on the football field earned him a scholarship to play at Belhaven, where he was a three-year starter and captain, setting school records in power-lifting.  Though he was put on the sideline by an ankle injury, he still worked hard to motivate his teammates while pursuing his degree.

"I was originally going to school to be a lawyer," Grady said. "I wanted to go to school to study law and be a District Attorney, but Belhaven didn't offer that major."

Grady's time at Belhaven was coming to an end, and he needed to make a decision about where he wanted to go in life.  He was soon inspired to a new calling by the words of a Yazoo City athlete who looked up to him.

"I realized I wanted to coach when another football player from Yazoo City told me that he got baptized because of my inspirational words and the way he saw me carry myself," Grady said. "At that point I knew that coaching was my calling because I feel like my ultimate purpose is to bring people closer to Christ, and athletics is the way that I do it."

After that, Grady changed his major to Sports Administration with a minor in Sports Ministry.  He would later graduate in May of 2017 and was awarded a teaching certificate from the Mississippi Department of Education's Alternate Route program.

Grady had just completed his first year of teaching at Forest Hill High School in Jackson, and wasn't sure where God would lead him to next.

"I said, God whatever your next move is, just make it plain and simple and put it out there for me, and the next day I received a phone call." he said.

That phone call was from Coach Rials, the Co-Defensive Coordinator at Yazoo City High School, asking if Grady would be interested in coming back home to coach football.

After much consideration, prayer, and discussion with his wife, Shannon, Grady accepted the job.  He is currently employed as an 8th Grade ICT teacher at Woolfolk Middle School, teaching computer science and technology classes, while building relationships with junior high and high school students on the football field.

Rico McCullum is the son of Bertha McCullum and Charles Spellman Jr. 

While playing for the Yazoo City Indians, McCullum received awards such as Player of the Week, Best Offensive Lineman, and also won the Indian Award his senior year.

After high school, McCullum attended Belhaven University where he played football and gained notoriety when he set a school record for the most forced fumbles in a game.

McCullum originally planned to pursue a degree in either Pharmacy or in Physical Therapy, but was soon inspired to change his major to Sports Administration when he realized the need for love and guidance in the lives of young people.

"I'm easily connected to people and children and I feel like I could be a great mentor for them," McCullum said.

McCullum graduated from Belhaven this May with a degree in Sports Administration, and is currently employed at McCoy Elementary School where he is a 5th Grade Learning Strategies teacher for Math and Science, and also works with junior high and high school football players.

Both Grady and McCullum say that they were inspired to become coaches based on the leadership of former Yazoo City High School football coach Kyle Wallace.

"Coach Wallace made me fall in love with coaching simply because of the care that he had for us," McCullum said. "It's something when you know that a person genuinely cares, and it was definitely present in him, and that is what made me want to come back and do the same thing."

"Coach Wallace was my mentor in every way, and a lot of the things I do are modeled after the way he did it," said Grady. "A piece of advice to coaches would be, be careful of the way you act around players, because you never know who is watching your every move."

Both men are dedicated to the task before them and are working hard each day to make sure each student and athlete gets the care and attention they deserve. 

"Wins and losses are important, but I am more focused on the type of man I am producing," Grady said. "The type of husband I am making for someone, the type of father I am making, those are the types of things I emphasize on."

"In the classroom, the number one priority for me is growing these children," McCullum said, "A lot of them have just been passed along, but I am willing to give them the proper nourishment that they need to help them grow and be that disciplined scholar that they can be."

Both men also said that coming home to Yazoo City was an easy choice to make because they want to see their town become a better place.

"When you give back to your community, you are actually giving back to something that helped invest in you," said Grady. "I strongly encourage everyone to interact with the place that they came from, because without those people, who knows where you would be today."

"I would say just be more involved, come back and visit, let the students know you care, let the athletes know you care, that's all they need these days is just someone to be there for them," said McCullum.