“I want Montreal Sud-Ouest Aces Football program to be an option for children in all of the south-west…. not only in Little Burgundy, but also for those growing up in Pointe St. Charles, St. Henri, Verdun, Ville Emard and Griffintown because the more options there are for children in the community, the more options they have at finding success in life.”
I’Jaaz Hendrickson-Payne knows a thing or two about the value of football and other organize sports in the lives of youth in marginalized communities.
The 34-year-old Montrealer grew up in Little Burgundy surrounded by temptation. But, he says he was never tempted to deviate from the path that his parents charted for him because “there was a chance that I wouldn’t have football.”
“Football became a big part of my life.”
Today, after fighting through a debilitating and life-altering illness that took him off the football field prematurely, he is doing his best to offer another generation an opportunity to enjoy the game and maybe use it as a springboard to something bigger.
He was 21 years old at Bishop University in Lennoxville on a football scholarship when he was stricken with a rare form of anemia that left him bed-ridden for four years during which he had to be hospitalized every winter.
The illness cut short what could have been an impressive football career but it couldn’t douse I’Jaaz’s passion for the game.
His Linkedin introduction reads:
“This sport has given me so much and it is my mission to pay it forward to the youth. The lessons learned, the avenues it creates and the lifetime relationships are my motivation.”
He told the CONTACT that once he realized that he couldn’t continue to play, he responded to the urgings of his older brother Arondai and joined him as a coach with the St. Hubert Rebels.
“I quickly realized that as a coach, I was able to get the same fulfillment and the same level of satisfaction as when I was on the field, especially when I’m able to add something to the young players game.”
Two years ago, with an already full slate of work and obligations as a football coach, I’Jaaz took on the duties as a head coach of the Sud-Ouest Aces, the football program in which honed his skills and developed his love of the game as an eight year old.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me to give back to the team ands the community that gave me my start,” he says.
He remembers the commitment of the founder of the team, George Woods, a police officer, who wanted to help keep young Montrealers off the street and on the straight and narrow.
“I remember him driving around in a school bus picking players throughout Burgundy. I remember him offering me an opportunity to be on the team after my first try-out.”
So when Woods confided in him that he needed help, I’Jaaz did not hesitate to reconnect with the Aces, this time as head coach.
At the time, he had already put together an impressive resume coaching several schools/colleges and amateur football teams at different levels in the Greater Montreal region, with stints at the St. Hubert Rebels, The Greenfield Park Packers, also at Eduoard Monpetit College and Ecole Secondaire Dalbé-Viau in Lachine.
But the challenges he faced with the Aces were a little more than he expected.
He says none of those coaching experiences prepared him for what he faced with his former hometown team.
His first task was to build the team. He needed at least 22 players, he had 13
“Almost every day, I was leaving my job early to drive around the neighborhood, trying round up as many kids as I can find. I visited every centre where they gathered. If I saw them on the street, I would jump out my car and give them flyers and other contact information to take to their parents.”
Eventually he patched together a group of 22. It included two girls and one player with special needs, but at least he had something to work with. It wasn’t easy.
“They were a totally different from the kids that I had become accustomed to in the South Shore, who came well motivated and with total support from their parents… so many of those kids in the South West districts are without motivation.
I’ve never had to do so much preaching in my entire coaching career. Every day it was all about positive reinforcements because many of the kids were lacking confidence in them. It’s as if they were never told that they were good at anything.”
But eventually his message and his knowledge of the game started to resonate with the motley group of young players and by the end of his first year, he began see result on the pitch. The Aces ended the season with a winning record.
Then it started to come together in 2022, his second year, with the Aces beating three of the top four teams in the league to emerge with the Coupe Montreal LFNM, Bantam AAA.
These days, I’Jaaz remains confident that his work with the kids from what is his original ‘hood is bringing results.
But he needs some help: “I want more parents to see that football can be one of the best experiences in their children’s lives, And it’s not expensive. So we are always looking for the next group of players.
We’re also looking for quality coaches and would love to see more men come forward and help nurture the talent that’s out there.”