The influence of coaches David Hogan, Cleveland Hudson and Chuck Friend helped turn Starkville's Tony Akins into a professional football career.
Now Akins looks to make an impression on the members of the Starkville Cowboys of the Northeast Youth Football Football Association.
This is the first year the Cowboys have been able to host a community game at West Side Park. It takes place Saturday at 10 a.m. against the Koscuisko Cardinals.
"They are overjoyed about it," Akins said about the opportunity. "(West Side) is where we practice every day and what we call our home. We eat, sleep and bleed football on this field."
Akins, the coach of the Cowboys, said he wouldn't be in a position to instruct his team if it were not for Hogan, Hudson and Friend.
Hogan coached Akins in Little League baseball, while Hudson was his track coach and Friend was his football coach.
"They shaped me into the man I am now and helped in getting the opportunities that opened for me during my journey," Akins said.
Akins said Hudson had a way of relating to someone as a person, no matter how talented, while Hogan instilled fight, competitiveness and confidence, and Friend believed in him even with the academic strikes against him.
Akins won a state championship with Starkville High School in 1994, then went on to East Mississippi Community College and Northeast Louisiana in Monroe. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1999, and ended up playing for the Hamilton Tiger Cats and helped them win the Gray Cup.
"It was overwhelming and I just wanted to pass it down to kids so they can experience the same thing in their life," Akins said. "That opportunity opened up for me and I just want to tell them to take advantage of their opportunities because they are there."
Akins' brother, Jeff, has directed the league for the last two years and likes how far it has progressed and the support it has received.
"The support from the parents is very important and I want to thank them most of all," Jeff Akins said. "The kids have been working hard on the field and in school because our motto of our league is where education and football come together. We try to stand by that as much as we can."
After being founded by the late Andre Williams, the league has been in existence for seven years. Williams passed away over two years ago and willed the league over to his friend Jeff Akins.
He looks forward to bringing the kids of the community back to West Side Park for football.
"That side of town hasn't been used for football since 1973 so we're very excited about doing something there," Jeff Akins said. "The kids, coaches and parents are excited and we just want continued support for the program."
There's no price for admission for the game, but the Cowboys are asking for a $2 donation to support the team.