Alshon Jeffrey at football practice in Saint Matthews.
Photo by the Times and Democrat

By Tanner Young

There are countless small towns littered across the United States. Some of these towns contain talented athletes. Some of those make it out, and sometimes the environment they grow up in swallows them up. One athlete who made it out is Alshon Jeffery, and one who got swallowed up is Charles Ben. Alshon Jeffery is a former University of South Carolina stand out player.

I grew up in Saint Matthews, a town of 2,000. This is the same town that now has Jeffery’s name on signs that greets visitors. “Welcome to Saint Matthews. Home of professional football player Alshon Jeffery,” the sign reads. Jeffery’s story is one that affects athletes across the country.

Before the 27-year-old Jeffery was drafted in the second round of the 2012 National Football League draft, he was simply known as “Boo,” a name his mother affectionally calls him. Jeffery’s mother and my mother, Kandi Young, have taught at Saint Matthews K-8 School for over 20 years. That’s why Jeffery suggested her son take Young’s speech class.

“When I realized Alshon had a stuttering problem when he was little, I thought no one better to fix it than your mama,” she said. Alshon Jeffery is only a couple of years older than I, so I grew up with his rise to fame. Whether it was his basketball stat line in the local paper about him scoring many points or his insane football stats, I was there for all of it.

What I wasn’t there for were newspaper headlines like that from another Saint Matthews athlete. He is a pivotal reason that Jeffery succeeds as a professional. That man was Charles Ben, Jeffery’s older brother.  “Charles is going to be the first player out of Saint Matthews to make it to the NFL,”  my mother said.

Ben is about six years older than Jeffery, and is one of those “I almost made it athletes.” The two share the same father. Jeffery took his mother’s name.

Across America there are athletes who come from single-parent homes. Some of those athletes grow up wrestling with poverty in crime-filled neighborhoods. For the latter, the only way to get out of poverty is to play sports. Even though some gifted athletes realize they need to stay on the straight and narrow to make it out of their situation, some just can’t overcome their circumstances.

This is what happened to Ben. He was a two-sport athlete at Calhoun County High School just like his younger brother, and was considered a sure thing to make it to the NFL.

Zam Fredrick, who handles the school district’s transportation as well as having a son who was a star on the University of South Carolina’s basketball team,  coached Charles Ben and Alshon Jeffrey.

Fredrick said, “In my opinion, and I’ve been here 28 years as a coach, Charles Ben is the best athlete we ever had.”

Ben graduated from Calhoun County High School in 2002 and committed to the University of South Carolina. Barry Charley, the principal of Calhoun County High School, said, “We have some great athletes that come from broken homes, so education isn’t a priority, but I think Alshon learned from Charles’ mistakes.”

Ben, according to my sources, thought his sports prowess would get him out of Saint Matthews. He ended up going to S.C. State University. But he did not play sports there because of poor grades.  Now Ben, like other great athletes who follow their dreams but fail, is stuck in Saint Matthews.

Jefferey watched all this happen. It seems he wanted to learn from it and not make the same mistakes. By his senior year, Jeffrey had multiple offers to play college sports. Many people in Saint Matthews feared he would make the same mistakes his brother made. Even Lane Kiffin, then the coach at the University of Southern California, told Jeffery if he played at home at South Carolina he would, “pump gas the rest of his life.”

Doubt only increased when Jeffery decided to stay at home and become a Gamecock. According to newspaper accounts,  he did that because he wanted to stay close to home so that all his brothers, including Ben,  could see him play.

Multiple attempts to reach Jeffery and Ben for comment were unsuccessful. Requests for interviews were declined.

And the rest is history. Jeffery became one of the greatest receivers the Gamecocks have ever had, and then became a force in the National Football League. The Chicago Bears drafted him, and he became a pro bowl wide receiver in 2013 even with inconsistent quarterback play. He just signed a lucrative contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. The only thing Jeffery hasn’t accomplished is getting the ultimate prize:a Super Bowl ring. He has a chance to do that this year playing for the Philly Eagles.

Young is a public relations senior