Photo Provided: In the Photo is Jack Twyford and his family. Photo Provided: In the Photo is Latrell Jean.
By: Mike Ferguson. Contributing Writer.
Winter Haven – For former Polk County football players, the first college semester away from home brought new challenges – on the field and in the classroom.
Former Winter Haven standout offensive tackle Jack Twyford spent his fall of 2019 in the Ivy League at Yale. Latrell Jean, a former defensive end at powerhouse Lakeland High School, was reminded what it was like to be a champion as a freshman at Florida Atlantic University.
“In high school, things were pretty easy,” Twyford said. “It was really teacher-guided, but here, it’s a lot shorter because you only have four classes. You kind of have to teach yourself. It’s definitely a lot harder, but not impossibly hard. I had a pretty fun time on the academic side.”
A history major with law school ambitions, Twyford said his grade-point average was just shy of a 3.0. Twyford noticed that the curriculum is based heavier on tests than in high school.
As for his day, Twyford said, it starts a bit later, but after classes, meetings, practice, and homework, it’s much longer. Twyford said he’s expected to be on “Bulldog time”, which is 10 minutes early for wherever he’s expected to be.
Jean, a communications major with ambitions of working in sports media, carried a 3.2 GPA in his first semester away from home.
PERSONAL GROWING PAINS
Both Jean and Twyford enjoyed team success, but getting on the field wasn’t easy. “It’s a whole different ballgame,” Jean said. “In high school, I was bigger and stronger than just about everybody I lined up against. It’s different not being the biggest and sometimes not the strongest guy on the field.”
At 6-6 and 290 pounds, Twyford appeared in just two games for Yale – against Princeton and Fordham. Twyford said there were plenty of adjustments to make in terms of football from practice regiments to adjusting to changing speeds and physicality.
“The head coach divides practice into 28 periods, so it’s kind of refreshing to have a set practice schedule,” Twyford said. “When I signed my letter of intent, I was already participating in weightlifting. (Winter Haven) Coach (Charlie) Tate’s program was great and really helped me a lot. “When I got (to Yale), it was the most running I had ever done in my entire life.”
A PART OF HISTORY
At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Jean appeared in four games for an FAU team that won Conference USA for the second time, defeated SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl and tied a school record for wins in a season with 11.
“It’s great to know we were able to leave a mark,” Jean said. “Coming from Lakeland and winning state to winning Conference USA in my first year was amazing.”
As a team, Yale finished 9-1 and in a tie for first place in the Ivy League. The lone loss came to league co-champion Dartmouth. The Bulldogs wrapped up their season by rallying past arch-rival Harvard 50-43 in one of college football’s most historic rivalries, which dates back to 1875.
“As is the case with a lot of rivalries, there’s a totally different attitude that week,” Twyford said. “We only play a 10-game schedule and there are no playoffs, so for a lot of guys, that’s their last game.”
Just attending Yale, Twyford said, is historic in nature. Founded in 1701, the Ivy League school in New Haven, Connecticut has been a place of education for five U.S. presidents and is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country.
“It’s visually surreal,” Twyford said. “Seeing Harkness Tower or Sterling Memorial Library is amazing. The architecture is really vertical. The interior is Colonial and historic.
“It’s also neat playing in the Yale Bowl – one of the nation’s oldest stadiums,” Twyford added. “I’ll always cherish that.”
BEING AWAY FROM HOME
When it comes to seeing family members, the situations for Jean and Twyford are largely different. Being in Boca Raton, Jean says his family comes down for most home games. About a three-hour drive, Jean added that proximity to home was a factor when he decided to attend Florida Atlantic.
“I have a great family and they have been really supportive,” Jean said. “I still get to see them a lot.”
About 1,200 miles from home, Twyford said his mother came up for just two games this past season and his father, a former Winter Haven city commissioner, was able to make it up just once. Other things Twyford misses about home, he said, include the Central Florida weather and the southern hospitality.
“Not getting to see them a lot, it’s been tough on me,” Twyford said. “Most people aren’t from that far away. The good thing is a lot of the other players’ parents treat you like you’re their son.”
The Ivy League doesn’t give redshirts, but Twyford said it is possible to get a fifth year of eligibility. With two All-Ivy League offensive linemen graduating, the former Winter Haven standout hopes to take on a bigger role in 2020.
“My personal goals are to start in football,” Jean said. “In school, I’m going to work to keep my grades up.”
As for Jean, he’ll also be adjusting to a new head coach. Former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart will be replacing Lane Kiffin, who left FAU for Ole Miss after leading the Owls to a second Conference USA title in three years. Taggart went just 9-12 in Tallahassee, but orchestrated turnarounds at Western Kentucky, South Florida, and Oregon.
“We had a feeling that Coach Kiffin wouldn’t be there long,” Jean said. “He came from the SEC – at Tennessee and (Alabama) – so we all know that college football is a business. We know what Coach Taggart had accomplished at USF, so we got a great coach coming in. There’s really no drop-off to me.”
About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo, FoxSports.com, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida with their two children.