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Lions DE Jonathan Wynn Reflects on the “Pure Joy” of Youth Football

This is the second installment of "Why We Play," a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game. 

Stone Mountain, Georgia, a city just outside of Atlanta, has produced its share of NFL players. Stephenson High School, located in Stone Mountain, has seen 15 of its graduates make it to the league since 2006 alone.

Jonathan Wynn, currently with the Detroit Lions after a stellar athletic and academic career at Vanderbilt University, is one of those Stephenson High grads. For Wynn, a 6-4, 260-pound defensive end, football started way before he helped his high school qualify for states.

“I started playing youth football when I was eight,” Wynn said of his days and nights at Wade Walker Park playing for the Little Jaguars in the early 2000s. “My dad put me out there and I took to it. I enjoyed it. I always had athleticism and it showed on the field. You got to play both sides of the ball, so I played defensive end, but I also played some offensive tackle and fullback. Those were good times.”

Wynn did more than just hone his skills and have fun at that young age. Youth football in Stone Mountain taught him other life skills that are still evident today. 

“[Youth football] was my first time doing something as a team and that was important,” Wynn said. “The way I grew up, I was always watching [University of] Georgia football and all of that. But youth football developed those skills of what it was like to have teammates and how to compete along with them, bonding with your teammates. I didn’t have a brother, so the other kids on my teams became like life-long brothers. It got to where we depended on one another. We knew if we all did our jobs, we would be successful. And that got ingrained in us at an early age.”

Wynn used what he learned in youth football on his way to Stephenson High, Vanderbilt University and now with the Lions. 

“Football, learning it at a young age, you learn how to deal with adversity and how to battle through it,” Wynn said. “Things don’t always go your way. I remember crying after one game. But you learn from that and it helps you the rest of your life.

“A lot of the dudes I played with in youth football, I played with and against in high school and some of them are in the league, now too,” Wynn added in reference to running back Mike Davis of Carolina, linebacker Preston Smith of Green Bay, and linebacker Montez Sweat, of Washington. “It was a great experience for me and definitely a building block for my career.

“We took it seriously, for sure. It was that type of environment. … It was a great atmosphere. We had big crowds at those games, and you got to know the other families who were there. It was a lot of fun.”

Wynn remembers hosting teams from Chattanooga, Tennessee and parts of Alabama that traveled to Atlanta for different events. But what he remembers most is the fun he had as a kid playing a sport he learned to love.

“What made it more significant for me with youth football and even high school football,’’ Wynn said, “was the pure joy of playing the game.”