While Long Island’s high school football fields lie dormant this fall, two former Nassau seniors are gaining national attention on the gridiron playing in Georgia.
Former Freeport captains Jayvian Allen and Jaidan Jackson made a life-changing decision in early July to leave Long Island to play for nationally ranked Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia.
Both players said the decision to leave Long Island and Freeport, the two-time defending Class I champion, was a difficult one. But the possibility of fall sports being canceled in New York because of the coronavirus pandemic and missing their senior seasons loomed large.
"I didn’t know if we were playing in New York, and I had to play somewhere and there was a shot to do that in Georgia," said Jackson, a Division I prospect. "This was the smartest move of my life. It put me in a position to get a college scholarship. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be playing."
For Allen, there was an added incentive to make the move.
"My dad had me come down to Georgia and attend some summer football camps in the area," Allen said. "And he was taking care of his aunt and his mom and said he could use some help. It’s always family first. It was very hard to leave Freeport and coach [Russ] Cellan. I wanted a three-peat this fall. But to come down and do the right thing for my family and also get the opportunity to play football for a great program — I’m blessed. It’s all working out."
The decision was made somewhat easier for both players because a former teammate, defensive end Victoine Brown, had moved to Grayson in 2018 and was having success. Brown made the move to Grayson to live with his mother. The 6-3, 220-pounder entertained offers from 20 Division I programs before recently committing to Louisville.
"Victoine said it was a great football program and an excellent school," Jackson said. "Best move of my life. [Victoine] said it would be an easy fit for me and they have great coaches — just like Freeport. We agreed it was a good family move because my aspirations are to play in college and beyond. I already have a bunch of college offers, including Fordham, Gardner-Webb, Tennessee Tech and Stony Brook."
Jackson, at 6-3 and 270 pounds, has drawn the attention of college recruiters. He is the starting nose guard for the Rams, the top-ranked team in Georgia.
Allen, a speedy defensive back, was a Newsday first team All-Long Island selection as a junior. He is currently one of the leading tacklers for Grayson, ranked fifth nationally, after a 4-0 start.
"There’s something about defense and hitting people that I really like," the 5-10, 180-pound Allen said. "I can contribute on both sides of the ball but if I can get that college chance as a defender, that’s for me."
Jayvian's father, Kevin, said the family component made it easier for his son to leave Freeport.
"My aunt had passed, and we initially came down to take care of my mom Claudette," Kevin Allen said. "There were football camps to attend and I just said you should just come and stay with me in Georgia. He wants to play and that’s what it boiled down to: there were opportunities in Georgia."
While the opportunities to play in Georgia seemed promising, there was still plenty of risk involved.
"There was a lot of talk about the infection numbers, but it didn’t affect the Georgia high school football season," Jackson said. "Everything just kept moving forward. But it was a struggle for me in the beginning because I’m a momma's boy and my mom hadn't come down to Georgia right away, it was just me and my dad. I was thinking about going home. The heat down here is crazy."
The competition was another factor. Would they get playing time at a school that is among the nation's top programs?
The Grayson football program produced nine Division I signees in its 2019 class. Giants running back Wayne Gallman, a 2013 graduate of Grayson, played at Clemson before he was selected by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, a 2012 Grayson grad and teammate of Gallman’s, attended Mississippi and was a first-round selection by the Arizona Cardinals in 2016.
"Jayvian got out while he could and it may have been the best move of his football career," Freeport coach Russ Cellan said. "We’re going to miss him terribly — he was an impact player. But he got out of his position before the thing collapsed — like a smart stock trader. He always had great timing on the field and now his timing off the field is just as good."
Cellan also gushed about Jackson’s unlimited potential and a future that could end up in the NFL.
"We lost two captains and I really can’t blame them because look at what’s going on around here," Cellan said. "Allen started in 9th grade and would have been a four-year starter and Jackson started in 10th grade and won two LICs. And Jackson just keeps getting bigger, stronger and faster — who knows where he ends up?"
Freeport carries a 24-game win streak into its next season. The Red Devils future on the gridiron is still somewhat in doubt — with a shortened season expected to commence in March of 2021.
"They were two of the very best on a team that’s going to be very good," Cellan said. "I felt bad there wasn’t more information because it was all guessing and speculation. We couldn’t give them answers. We didn’t know at that point what was going on, so I can’t really fault them for leaving. I wouldn’t steer them wrong, they’re recruitable guys. It may have been the last chance to play, maybe the only chance."
Jackson’s only regret was not getting the chance to say goodbye.
"Freeport has a great coaching staff and I miss them," Jackson said. "We would grind at Freeport and that foundation prepared me for Grayson. I wanted to tell everyone I was leaving but because of the COVID thing I couldn’t. It got too late and I was gone. I will reach out to Coach Cellan, I owe him that, and tell him how important he was in my life."