CHICAGO — For every great success story, there's often a person who made all the difference along the way. For hundreds of kids here in Chicago, it's a guy by the name of Chris James.
After growing up in the Robert Taylor Housing Project, James was supposed to be one of the guys who made it out of the rough neighborhood he grew up in. A full-ride football scholarship was his ticket out, but a bad injury killed that dream after just two years.
"I always wondered why did I get hurt? Why did I get hurt? And this is kind of it," James said.
Four years ago, James went back to the streets he grew up on to show other young men a better way was possible. He started the HEROH Foundation to combine sports training and mentorship, helping them perform both athletically and academically.
Since then, he's pushed pretty much every kid he could get his hands on, giving them the tools they need to chase their dreams. He does it all while also serving as the head football coach at his old alma matter, Morgan Park High School.
"It was extremely important to me," James said. "I felt like it was my responsibility."
The HEROH Foundation has helped over 150 kids land full college scholarships for football so far. Even beyond sports, he makes sure they take full advantage of the chance to get a free education.
"Football does that. football gives you discipline," James said. "You gotta listen."
James and other mentors in the HEROH Foundation serve as role models for the students as well, providing them with the guidance many don't receive at home.
"Just this last year, five of my best players dads were incarcerated you know for various reasons," James said.
Even beyond serving as a role model, James serves as advocates for his students, meeting with school officials to help champion their potential in the classroom.
"Coach CJ came to the school, helped me switch classes around and talk to teachers, and now I'm doing better in school," Jacquez Woodland said.
HEROH using football to change lives and show these kids what lies beyond the block they grew up on.
"I feel like it it wasn't for HEROH, I wouldn't be here right now," Joseph Thompson said.
To make sure they know the options available to them, James packs his students onto buses and visits colleges all over the country, from California to Texas to New York. There they meet coaches he hopes they will play for one day, and schools where they could get an education.
"They see the world is way bigger than the neighborhood I came from," James said.
James says it's about convincing the kids they are good enough, and then picking up the phone to connect them with opportunities.
"I'm one of the first in my family to go to college....so it meant a lot to me," Woodland said.
As much as he's done in only four years, James believes there are hundreds more HEROH could reach if they had more resources and support.
"At the end of the year I see the scholarship list and there's 45 kids that go to school this year, and I'm like whoa...let's move onto the next class," James said.