Elysian Fields’ football team was in Joaquin last Friday night, hoping the weather would clear up for a chance to take on the Rams. As EF senior guard and defensive tackle Justin Kitchen listened to the weather, it became more evident to him that his Yellow Jackets weren’t going to play that night.
“It was very disappointing because I was actually looking forward to that game,” Kitchen said. “I was going to be going against their biggest kid. It was going to be a fun game but sitting in the locker room, listening to the thunder kept bringing me down every time I heard something go off.”
The Yellow Jackets were disappointed they didn’t get to play in Week 2, but they’re also trying to look at the positives.
“You just have to approach it as, ‘OK, what did we get out of it?’” Elysian Fields athletic director and head football coach Scott Ford said on Tuesday. “Well, we didn’t get banged up, we’re rested and yesterday (Monday) was the best Labor Day practice I’ve ever been part of with a high school football team. So it’s 2020. You deal with it and move on.”
They moved on to prepare for Winona, a team the Yellow Jackets have played for six straight years.
“Just everybody do their job, focusing on their keys, running to the ball, having a high motor and just going all on out,” Kitchen said when asked what the key is to getting a win over the Wildcats.
The game is set to take place at 7 p.m. tonight in Elysian Fields.
“Right now, since we didn’t play Friday, it’s a really, really good thing,” Ford said when asked what he thinks of playing on a Thursday night as opposed to Friday night. “We’re not coming off a quick turnaround. We’re not beat up. We’re not sore. We didn’t show video. We didn’t do all those things that you do after you play a football game.”
Ford is confident in the team he’s planning to put on the field tonight and Kitchen is a large reason why.
“Justin is a big strong kid,” Ford said. “I actually coached him in Little League Baseball when he was in fifth grade. He’s been in the program since seventh grade. He’s a three-year-varsity starter. He’s starting both ways on the line and that’s a big ask. He’s productive on both sides of it. The thing I like about Justin is his leadership. He uses a lot of the same phrases that our coaches use on a daily basis. You like it when you have kids repeating the same verbiage as the coaches. He really believes in what we’re doing. He believes whole-heartedly in ‘Attendance, Effort, Attitude,’ that’s our motto to hang our hat on.
“He’s every bit of 6-4, 250,” Ford added. “He’s got the frame to go on and play. He was groomed by Jade Ashalintubbi, who’s now starting at Houston Baptist. Justin really had to earn his stripes going against that kid every day because Jade was 6-5, 320 and didn’t have hardly an ounce of fat on him.”
“My freshman year, I remember the day I got called over to him,” Kitchen said when asked about playing with Ashalintubbi. “I was standing there with the JV, practicing with my guys and all the sudden, I heard coach Ford, ‘Kitchen.’ I went running over thinking I did something wrong and he goes, ‘Stand in front of them two and don’t them block you.’ It was Jade Ashalintubbi, who at the time was 6-5, at least 300 pounds and Malik Johnson who was like 6-5, another 300 pound-guy. I was like, ‘Yep, this is going to be fun.’
“That’s how I spent most of my freshman year and I actually got to play with Jade my sophomore year. That was a really good teaching experience with those guys.”
Kitchen is now the one doing a lot of the teaching and leading underclassmen. He started playing football in kindergarten and through the years, he has learned many valuable life lessons that apply both on and off the field.
“The one that really comes to mind is dealing with adversity,” Kitchen said. “Whenever something goes wrong, how are you going to respond? How are you going to react to it? Are you going to throw your hands and quit or respond and come back stronger than you were before?”
“Funny story about him when he was in sixth grade – he came to our Yellow Jacket football camp and I had to actually kick him out of the camp because he came unglued on a coach and completely lost it and cussed out the coach,” Ford recalls.
“I had to have a parent meeting with him and mom, explaining to them why he couldn’t come back and whey he couldn’t get a camp T-shirt.”
“I had just gotten my butt kicked three times in a row doing a supposed-low contact drill with Jade Ashalintubbi and got put on my butt three times and being as mentally weak as I was as a sixth grader, decided it would be a great idea to cuss out the coach who was running the drill,” Kitchen said.
“I got kicked out of camp for the rest of the week and now it’s one of those stories I look back on and go, ‘Man, I was really stupid as a kid.’”
“Then you go from there to now and he’s as good of a leader as we have and he is all in,” Ford continued. “He loves football as much as anybody that I’ve coached. He’s going to go on and be a good college football player somewhere.”
Kitchen has about five offers on the table but is waiting to make a decision.
“I want to go to college for criminal justice and eventually work my way up the ranks,” the senior lineman said.
In the meantime though, Kitchen has a high expectation for this season.
“Go all the way until December,” he said. “That’s my expectation.”
Prior to taking the field for tonight’s contest against Mineola, Kitchen will be recognized as the KYKX Game of the Week scholarship winner.
“I was definitely taken back,” Kitchen offered. “I was not even expecting that. I’m very humbled for it.”
Tonight’s game is slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Jacket Stadium.