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Indians find success in the Gopher State

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By Jenna McKenna

When Chiefland linebacker Jimmie Gunn went up to Minnesota State University at Mankato, there to become an All-North Central Conference First Team defender, he probably didn’t know his trek would inspire a migration.

This year, five Chiefland High School grads, including All-Area athlete Cantrell Richardson and his cousin Marquis Jackson, will make the trek up to Mankato as part of the College Access Program (CAP). Jackson, a near cousin of Gunn’s who first visited the campus in his freshman year, decided several years ago that he wanted to go to MSU-Mankato.

He persuaded Richardson to join him, and the two participated in CAP, an intensive transitional program designed to help promising students find success in college. The purpose of CAP is to identify students from various ethnic, economic and cultural backgrounds that are underrepresented in college.

In order to help ensure their success, the students have access to year-round advising and tutoring, a two-year academic performance contract, and planned activities to help them become a part of the university. In order to qualify, the students must complete a rigorous course of summer classes at the university.

Jackson, a prospective business major, and Richardson, a prospective physical therapy major, successfully completed the summer program, with Jackson earning a 3.0 GPA and Richardson a 2.7. Jackson, who played basketball for Chiefland, said he considered trying out for the MSU team, but decided in the end “to just focus on my schoolwork and getting a job.” He has a young son, Ty’jon, born just before the end of basketball season, and is working to help support his family.

Jackson also has a younger brother, Faveon, who lives in Tennessee, and he says he hopes to become successful quickly in order to help take care of his brother as well. Richardson did participate in a combine at the end of the summer, and was one of the top performers.

He’ll be playing for the Mavericks football team as a cornerback, and also expects to try out for basketball and track. “I’ve had a really good summer,” he said. “I’ve been lifting a lot, and my weight is up around 190. I’m a lot stronger.”

On Richardson’s 6’3” frame, that 190 pounds is looking better and better. As a cornerback and as a small forward, Richardson had outstanding hang time, a nose for the ball and excellent timing. His ability to rise up with an opposing receiver and intercept or deflect the ball was great last year. With steady work, it will get even better. Although Richardson only played three years of organized football ? one year of city league, one year of JV and one year of varsity, Chiefland football head coach Ajay Ulmer says he’s not at all surprised Richardson made the leap to college football.

“I always felt like once we got Cantrell on the field, he’d be a leading college prospect,” Ulmer said. “He has a great instinct for the game, and even though he doesn’t know the game all that well, he plays well ? he has a nose for it. That’s difficult.” At the same time, Ulmer said, Richardson is very coachable.

“He’s a green player, and we all like that, because they don’t know any other way,” he said. “If we told him, ‘Do it this way; it’ll work better,’ he would. He’s really easy to get along with. If you had one or two of Cantrell every year, you’d be in good shape.”

For a couple of guys who’ve spent their whole lives in rural North Florida, Jackson and Richardson say they’re adjusting just fine to life in Mankato, a town Jackson compares to Gainesville, just about 80 miles from Minneapolis.

It doesn’t hurt that fellow schoolmates Desiree Allen, Jonathan Hayes and Shacarole Richardson will also be on campus. “We’ve met a lot of nice people up here,” Richardson says. “There’s a lot to do. I think we’re going to be fine.”

Fine, that is, after they buy their winter clothes. “I hear it starts snowing in September here, and it doesn’t stop until May, Jackson says. “That will be interesting.”

Jackson and Richardson thank their moms, Joann Wellcome and Winnie Richardson, their coaches Mark Lundy and Ulmer, and teachers Holly Keene and Debra Brock for going the extra mile for them at CHS. They say if a young student or athlete coming out of Chiefland wants to go to college and succeed, that option is always within their grasp. “Keep your head up,” says Richardson. “Keep moving forward.”