Thursday, June 24, 2010
Former Arena League player Epson hoping hard work really does pay off
GREENVILLE — Before the sun has even set on the steep hill nested between the two downtown casinos, a group of eight athletes can be seen training — doing squat jumps, broad jumps and tire lunges, trying to gain a competitive edge in their respective sport.
Their strenuous workout last from about 5 a.m. until the sun starts to peek from the shadows, around 6:30 a.m.
They stop to get a quick breather when time allows, taking advantage of the lack of Mississippi heat during the early hours.
The activities can be demanding and exhausting, but the athletes may not be the one’s with the largest weight on their shoulder; it’s the instructor.
Lavante Epson, who trains the group daily, wakes up at 4:15 a.m. before the 5 a.m. training session. He leaves there and works on agility drills with several soccer players. Afterwards, he’s off to drop his two sons off at school, which is followed by another training session at Washington School. He then leaves to go to Bobby Henry Memorial Pool, where he works until 6:30 p.m., helping maintain the upkeep the facilities. His day finally ends after instructing a workout class at the same place his day began — between those two casinos.
The 33-year-old Epson, a Greenville-Weston High graduate who spent two years at Mississippi Delta Community College before transferring to University of Tennessee at Martin, knows a thing or two about hard work; it was the key to his seven year professional football career in Europe and the Arena League.
“When I was at (GWHS), I wasn’t the strongest or fastest, but I was the most dedicated,” said Epson, who now is on track to graduate from Mississippi Valley State University this summer, in hopes of becoming a strength and conditioning coach on the college level.
“I was a project kid. I was turned down at (MDCC) at first, but I got a letter two weeks later telling me to show up for two-a-days,” he continued. After leading MDCC to a divisional title, Epson transferred to UT Martin where he named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference second team in 1999, while recording 118 tackles.
Before receiving his degree, Epson left college to pursue his dream of playing professional football. After playing in Europe for the Hamburg Huskies, he eventually landed at the Arena League where he played for the Grand Rapids Rampage, Memphis Xplorers and Philadelphia Soul, owned by well-known musician Jon Bon Jovi.
Epson came back to Greenville in 2007, after a foot injury ended his career.
Now he spends his time helping aspiring professional athletes get to where he once was, while juggling his own aspirations simultaneously.
“I see myself as a bridge builder, so they won’t have to make the same swim I made,” Epson said.
Epson said in sports, hard work pays off.
“A lot of kids say they want to play on the next level, but I tell them it’s not easy. You have to work when no one’s looking,” he said. “Some things you have to let go, like friends. When my friends saw that I was serious (about football), they took me serious.”
Epson has trained several area athletes including former Washington School standout and Hinds Community College signee Matt Summers and Hollandale’s Carlos Thompson, who recently left for Ole Miss.
Epson, who said he had to take “two steps back to take a giant leap forward,” lives off the motto “hard work beats talent, when talent isn’t working hard,” he said.
The first step to success is believing. And excuses are not an option, he explained.
Asked what would be his response if an athlete thought they had a dim future because of their income level, location or ability, Epson said, “if you have that mindset, then you’re already lost. If you think you’re lost, (then) you’re lost.
“I grew up in (an area) called Soybean City. It had one way in, and one way out,” said the 1996 GWHS graduate. “I knew football was my way out. My projects was my stepping stone and not my barrier.
“Football is a game of life. Through football you learn to be a man, you learn to work not as an individual, but as as team.”
Epson’s training program is a win-win for both him and athletes; the players get hands-on training, while Epson gets to perfect his craft of strength and conditioning.
Once he’s finished at MVSU, Epson said he hopes to get into graduate school en route to reaching his goal.
“When I got injured (in Arena League) the first thing on my mind was I left school and I didn’t get my degree. What am I going to do? I prayed about it and I cried. And I prayed and cried,” he said.
But now things seem to be looking up for the Arena Cup champion, with a bachelor’s degree and a strength and conditioning internship hopefully waiting in the wings.
It’s all a part of a design prepared by a higher power, Epson said.
“God has a plan. It’s destined for (everyone) to go somewhere to do something,” he said, “but if you don’t work towards that, it won’t happen.”