Ray Core (Folsom Junior High Football)

After 26 years leading the Folsom Junior High football program, Ray Core has announced his retirement.

Ray Core wasn’t going to be a football coach.

Or at least he thought he wasn’t going to.

Graduating in 1976 from Louisiana State University with a degree in animal science, Core began a brief career in the road construction business with his family. However, a statewide hiring freeze sent him another direction.

“I ended up applying for a shepherd’s job on the sheep farm on campus (in Baton Rouge) and thought I had the inside track on the job,” Core said. “I had already worked on getting my children into University Laboratory School. Little did I know the hiring freeze extended to LSU and there ended up being no job.

“Luckily for me, I had taken all my electives in education agriculture classes. The ag job opened that same time at my old school, Folsom Junior High, and the rest is pretty much history.”

Now, 31 years after fate sent him back to his old school, Core has announced his retirement as the school’s football coach after 26 years as head coach and seven parish championships. Core will remain one more school year as the school’s agriculture teacher.

“You see most people in this profession that on Sundays are dreading Mondays,” Core said. “I couldn’t wait for Mondays. This was the perfect job doing everything I wanted to do. It’s such a great place. But it was just time for me to move on (from coaching football). My grandsons Briar and Sawyer Core live right behind me, and we are going to get the chance now to spend a lot more time together, which is something I’m really looking forward to.

“When I first started coaching, I would beat teams sometimes by a significant margin. I would look on the opposing sidelines and the coaches weren’t involved. I always told myself when it gets that way for me, I will know it is time to step away. I was in love with Folsom Junior High, and I still am. It’s just time for someone else to take over and keep it going.”

Core will be handing the reins of the program over to assistant coach Stephen Taylor.

“I’m leaving this program in good hands,” Core said of Taylor. “He is a great friend of mine. We joke that he calls me his ‘school father.’ He has been part of this program for years. He enjoys football and is going to do a great job.”

Folsom Junior High is one of four feeder schools for Covington High School. Core, who played at Covington for legendary coach Jack Salter, said the joy he gets from watching his former students playing there on Friday nights is hard to describe.

“First, Jack Salter is the reason I love football,” he said. “From the time I was born, football was just ‘it.' Football is my love. If I could go back in time to one point of my life, I always said it would be to go back to Covington High and play for the Lions again. Coach Salter instilled in me what football was all about.

“I have had kids come through Folsom Junior High that were passionate. The kids that matured once they got to Covington and continued to mature, that is what gave me joy. They played hard, and you went to games on Friday and took a tremendous amount of pride in seeing your former kids out there playing for the Lions.”

Arguably the best player Core coached in terms of football talent was Otis “Tramain” Jacobs, who after Folsom Junior High and Covington High went on to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Texas A&M before embarking on an NFL career, last playing with the Detroit Lions in 2017.

“Coach Core was maybe the first of many examples of a disciplinary figure in my life,” Jacobs said. “He exemplified what it meant to be tough, or more importantly, what it meant to be a man. At that age being in junior high, not a lot sticks, but (Core) made his mark in my life and the things he taught me definitely stuck.

“He is a great guy who always leads by example, and I’m proud to have had his influence at such a young age.”

Current Covington High coach Greg Salter, grandson of Jack Salter and who played youth baseball with Core’s son, said the advice Core gave him when he took the head job at Covington High is something that stays with him to this day.

“Without a doubt, I, to this day, still remember that conversation,” Salter said. “He told me to be Greg Salter, not my grandpa. When I got this job, a lot of people were excited, but there was a handful of people ... (who) knew the task I was up against. They were adamant about me being me. As a young coach, the fact that a group of people are believing in you and trust you and your process, not because of who you are or where you come from, meant the world to me.”

Core acknowledges he is going to miss coaching.

“I’m going to miss the smell of the grass right after it’s cut,” he said. “I’m going to miss the 100-degree temperatures, and I’m going to miss seeing the kids get out there and melt in conditioning, but as the year moves forward, seeing them grow into young men.

"I would have to say one of the things I’m going to miss the most is the times of watching those little chubby kids all of sudden six weeks into the season become a young man.”