Not far from the Forest Hills T station is a vast sanctuary of green, a place that can keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble.
Only, it’s not the Arnold Arboretum.
At Boston English, the grass field adjacent to the school and the turf fields across the street provide a safe place for kids to learn lessons that will help them succeed in life.
It’s a clean slate, a chance to start over.
“I play football because it turned me around,” said senior Jailyn Polanco, a running back and linebacker. “I used to be a kid that would always get in trouble, never focused, never cared for school. As soon as I got introduced to football, it turned my life around.”
Polanco added that playing football made him want to work harder and stay after school to help improve his grades.
“Now I’m doing whatever it takes to go to college and play football,” he said.
With a new coach and a veteran class gone, the opportunity is there for players — some who have never played before — to earn their spot.
First-year head coach Joseph Cain will be at the helm after serving three years as a defensive coordinator at Dorchester.
Tom Lamb, who has more than 40 years of coaching experience, will return as an assistant for his fourth season with the Blue Eagles.
A day before full-contact practice, Cain gathered his squad in the end zone at English.
“I have been incredibly impressed by what I’ve seen so far,” he told the group.
As the team went through their position drills, Emmanuel Almonte (University of Maine) and Darius Boodoosingh (Curry College) dropped by to help out. The two English alumni each had 12 rushing touchdowns and led the team to a 7-4 season in 2014.
“When they come onto the field, I feel like it provides a safe haven for them,” said Almonte. “They can come and just have fun.”
For some players, this is their first time playing in an organized setting. Yet they all looked like seniors gearing up for a repeat Super Bowl run. Players were attentive, not shy about asking questions.
The Blue Eagles were vocal in each drill, cheering their teammates on in support. With a squad of about 30, they are unified.
Everyone on the team will get the same opportunity to play. If they focus on school and work hard, they’ll be slotted into the lineup.
That only bolsters respect for their new coach.
“I revere him,” said senior Brima Koroma. “He’s a great coach because he cares about everybody.”
Community support has been impressive. When the Blue Eagles held a fundraiser earlier this month, their goal of $7,500 was reached in just seven days.
At Boston English, and in the surrounding community, Polanco says it’s like a family.
“Football brings us closer,” said Polanco. “There’s a lot of people that just want us to succeed in life.”