Virtual/ In Person
Let's raise some Dough! The football and cheer athletes are selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts to help offset the costs of equipment and uniform...
Virtual/ In Person
Open to all lineman, not just Opelika Dawg Pound players. Limited slots available. Check out the flyer on our facebook page for more details...
After his football career at Opelika High School and Mississippi State ended, Anthony Bryant joined the military to serve the nation. Following his deployments, Bryant combined his passions for football and service when he returned to Opelika.
Bryant founded the Knee-High Foundation in 2017 and with that the Opelika Dawg Pound football organization to give youth who have not yet reached middle school the opportunity to play football and give them an alternative to the crimes which troubled Bryant.
“There was a need to help the youth in the area,” Bryant said. “When I came back home in 2013 from Afghanistan, God gave me a vision. There was so much crime going on at that time with the youth, and I wanted to come back and make a difference.”
Although he recognized the need which prompted him to create the organization, Bryant admits that the response from the community since the organization’s creation has surprised even him.
“Honestly, it caught me off guard,” Bryant said. “To be in our third year and to be at the point that we are at right now, it is a blessing. It is shocking because I didn’t expect to be here, but it isn’t me. It is bigger than me. This is God’s vision. Anything we can do to keep these children off the street we are going to do it.”
The teams have now grown to three, with a 5- and 6-year-old group joining the 11- and 12-year-old, 9- and 10-year-old and 7- and 8-year-old teams that already represent Opelika.
Bryant said the number of boys in the program now exceeds 120. There are 22 coaches among the four teams with five coaching each team and two additional coaches that can oversee all the teams. The squads practice three days a week at Bandy Park near Jeter Primary School in Opelika.
“We are heavily involved in the schools,” Bryant said. “We stress grades more than anything, and we stress community service before football. The biggest thing is our coaches know what our expectations are and that we are going to stress school and community service before football.”
Beyond coaching, Bryant wants his coaches to be mentors for the children.
“What I take the most pride in is when the teachers and the parents call you to come and help out with what is going on,” Bryant said. “A lot of my boys out here are in single-parent homes, and they trust the coaches and myself to be involved in their lives. That is the most promising part.
“It is hands-on. It is strictly mentoring, and that is what a lot of them need. They just want to see that somebody cares.”
With the success and popularity of the football program, Bryant and Knee-High’s chief information officer Alyssa Foreman opted to open the program up to the community’s girls as well. Foreman started a cheerleading team for the Dawg Pound.
“To see the work that Anthony Bryant is doing with these young men, it is changing the community and it is changing the culture that we have here. I wanted to make sure that we had that same chance for our young women,” Foreman said.
Last year, the program started with 18 girls. This year that number has nearly doubled with 35 participating in tryouts this season.
“The improvements in their grades, the children interacting with each other, how they greet each other, and then athletically how they have grown over the year and how their self-esteem has grown,” Foreman said when asked what the most rewarding parts of the program have been.
“The cheer is a by-product of what we are looking to do. We wanted a way to get the children in. We wanted a way to reach out to the youth, but we knew we had to have something that would grab their attention. That is why we did it through sports.”
Playing in the Central Alabama Youth Football League out of Montgomery, the teams and the cheerleaders have plenty of opportunities to explore outside of Opelika. For many, it is their first opportunity to explore the world outside of Lee County.
In addition to the events they play in, the teams have gone to Atlanta Falcons games, taken camping trips and went on other excursions.
“When we travel outside the Opelika city limits, some of the things you hear are, ‘Oh man, I’ve never been outside Opelika.’ Or when we went Pensacola last December, ‘Wow, this is the first time I’ve to the beach.’ That is fulfillment,” Bryant said.
“When we opened the van doors for the kids to come out (to Pensacola Beach), it was just a sight to see because they were so excited.”
In addition to the regularly-scheduled trips, players have received opportunities to participate all-star events with seven children — Melvin Foley, Skylan Holstick, Dominique Key Jr., Kollin and Kyle King, Jadontae Jones and Omar Mabson — going to Las Vegas for an East vs. West national showcase game in January.
“It is very fulfilling to get them to see the fruits of their labor and not only that, but the other kids get to see it, too. ‘Wow, he worked hard and he got to go to Las Vegas or Myrtle Beach or Mexico, I’m going to work hard too.’ It is a domino effect,” Bryant said.
Just this month, the 12-year-old Holstick was able to travel to Mexico for an all-star game that pitted the United States against Mexico.
“We’ve seen the progression.,” Bryant said.
With the teams growing as the season opener in July draws closer, Bryant encourages parents to give his program a try.
“We are heavily involved, and if you want your child to be involved in a good mentorship program — because last year, we gave away over 500 book bags, we gave away two $500 scholarships to seniors graduating high school, we gave away over 60 turkeys for Christmas,” Bryant said. “We do so much and the kids, they want to do it. If you want your child to be a part of a good program, it is here.”
With all the trips as well as outfitting four football teams and a cheerleading squad, Bryant said the Knee-High Foundation offers different levels of sponsorships for individuals and companies that are able to help its cause.
“We have three different packages, and each package includes different things like your name on our t-shirt or your name on our website. We advertise on our signs at the field. It is just different things that we do for our sponsors, and they get into the games for free.” Bryant said. “If they can’t be here, we at least know who is sponsoring us and helping us out because we are wearing it or it is on our field.”
Bryant has a Facebook page at ‘Opelika DAWG POUND.’