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48 HOURS OF FOOTBALL: Youth football player plays a year up because of his size

Friday, October 28, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:04 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 28, 2011
At halftime, Ta’Joh Jennings takes a seat on the bench while his teammates sit on their helmets on the ground. Jennings is a fourth-grader playing in the fifth-grade division, but he’s still the biggest kid on his team.

10:30 a.m. At 5 feet 1 inch and 188 pounds, it’s hard to believe Ta’Joh Jennings just turned 10 years old on Oct. 14.

It’s not hard to believe, however, when he’s on the football field. He’s quite the competitor — even when playing with older students.

“People are scared of me,” Ta’Joh said.

As they should be. Most kids Ta’Joh’s age are more than 100 pounds lighter and some even a foot shorter. It’s no wonder he’s such a paralyzing sight for many others in his league.

Ta’Joh is in fourth grade, but his mother, Rosetta Bonaparte, has had him playing up a level since he started football four years ago.

“Fourth-graders are kind of too little for me,” Ta’Joh said. “I can tackle more easily in fourth grade, so that’s why my mom has me play against fifth-graders.”

Despite his stature, Bonaparte says her son is more of a jolly giant than a bully.

“He’s like a teddy bear, always congratulating his teammates,” Bonaparte said.

When Ta’Joh isn’t on the football field chasing down the opposition from his spot on the defensive line, he’s smiling on the bench and glaring onto the field. Ta’Joh seems to enjoy the game for what it is: Even though his fifth-grade Columbia Chiefs team has only won two games this season, it’s still fun for him to play.

“He just loves the game,” Bonaparte said.

He loves some parts of it more than others.

“Tackling,” Ta’Joh said with a playful smile. “I love hitting people hard.”

Whether he’s smiling on the sidelines or pushing around his teammates during drills, Ta’Joh has an understanding that he’s feared in the league.

But that doesn’t bother him at all, so long as he is still friends with the guys he’s tackling into the grass when he returns to class on Monday.

Ta’Joh enjoys the opportunity to exert his pent-up youthful energy in a positive, healthy way.

“Football is Ta’Joh’s way of taking what he has to deal with on a personal level and responding in a positive way on the field,” Chiefs Head Coach Scott Bartman said.

After four years of playing up, Bonaparte said she’ll probably have Ta’Jon play at his age level next season to give him more of an opportunity to develop and play different positions.

But Ta’Joh will remain a force in the league even if he doesn’t grow at all for the next few years. But Bonaparte doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Every year his shoe size is his age,” Bonaparte said. “He wears a 9.5 now. So I expect that to continue the next few years.”

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