COVINGTON, Ga. – From the age of five, if anyone asked Eastside soccer player Jackson Jolley what he wanted to be when he grew up, without a second thought he would say: professional soccer player.
On Thursday with his parents, brothers and grandparents on both sides watching, Jolley signed a scholarship offer to play soccer at Erskine College in South Carolina.
For Jolley this is an opportunity to start at a Division II school, and get one step closer to fulfilling his lifelong mission. At his signing, the high school senior was able to share a bittersweet moment with his family and teammates.
“Well, as it is, I’ve been [at Eastside] for five years. I’ve been here since I was in eighth grade, so everybody here, we’re family," Jolley said. “I mean we’ve grown up together, and everybody here is a part of my life and I know I’m a part of theirs.”
Eastside Soccer head coach Champ Young has known Jolley since he was a young kid of 12-years-old with a passion for soccer. Now, watching that same kid grow up and sign his first college offer to play the sport he loves resonates with Young on a level higher than soccer.
“They’re so much more to us than kids who kick a ball," Young said. "There’s so much more to us than stats – they’re people at the end of the day. They’re kids that we have the fortune to spend time with and make an impact and they make an impact on us."
So when they leave, it is bittersweet, but it also a very cool thing to watch and see as they go to the next level in life wherever they take them.”
Young doesn’t have any doubts that at that next level, Jolley’s love for the game will give him the best chance to be successful.
A conversation with the coach at Erskine, where Young says the team was impressed by the 18-year old's mentality, was just more of what he already knew of Jolley.
“The biggest thing that we try to push for our kids is that you got to love the game, and he loves the game,” Young said. “He’s been doing it forever. He’s gone to Arizona, he’s gone to Argentina [and] done the circuits with those.
I mean, if you don’t love it, don’t go, and he loves it. He’s going to definitely thrive in that environment, I think, just from knowing him as long as I have. I think he’ll definitely thrive.”
Getting to the point of signing of signing with Erskine was by no means a guarantee for Jolley. With soccer programs having limited scholarship offers, the process became a waiting game for the Jolley family.
Being patient and waiting for an opportunity was a struggle for Jolley as his senior year came around and he hadn’t yet received an offer. The uncertainty of whether or not an offer would truly come began to settle in.
For Jason Jolley, Jackson's father, it was taking a toll on him to experience his son go through such a toiling process.
The Jolleys waited by the phone and frequently checked mail hoping for some semblance of a response from a college after weeks of tryouts and visits.
“It was hard to watch,” Jason said. “We drove all over the country going and visiting these schools and trying out and some coaches were very responsive and some coaches are not very responsive, [and] you don’t get a whole lot of feedback from some of the coaches so you don’t know whether they liked your child or not.”
Erskine’s head coach, Warren Turner, however gave the Jolley family the break they were looking for.
After Jackson's tryout, Turner made sure the Eastside senior had all of the proper admissions forms signed and turned in, because he knew he wanted Jackson on the team.
“When the offer finally came in it was really nice,” Jason said. “[Jackson] was on cloud nine. It’s nice to know once he got the offer, he’s got somewhere to go, and somebody good liked him and somebody wanted him.”
As for Jackson, his signing culminated a journey he’s been preparing his whole life for.
“It’s bittersweet, my high school career coming to an end,” Jolley said. “It’s always sad, but I’m moving on to bigger and better things."