Seneca’s Wilkerson balances football with business
By Alex Maminakis
SENECA — Unlike most high school students, Jalen Wilkerson’s Saturdays start around the crack of dawn.
Even after late Friday nights consumed by football, the senior defensive tackle at Seneca High School makes sure he’s never late to work on Saturday mornings.
And even if he is, he wouldn’t get in too much trouble — he’s the boss.
“A lot of people don’t know, Jalen owns his own business — he works his rear end off,” Seneca coach Hal Capps said. “He’s a landscaper, and he owns every piece of equipment a landscaper would own. He’s got apartment complexes he does, he has houses that he does, he clears lots and land — I mean, he’s a worker.”
Wilkerson Lawn Care, appropriately enough, is Wilkerson’s business. He started mowing lawns a few years ago to make himself some money, and then with the help of his father and the support of his family, Wilkerson has turned a freelancing summer job into his own small business.
“I’ve been doing it for about four years now,” Wilkerson said. “It was the summer, and I told my dad I’d like to start cutting grass in my neighborhood, and I never thought about it getting this big, and it grew very fast. We do everything from cutting grass to installing mulch, sod, pine needles and bushes.”
This isn’t your average high school student lawn service, either. Wilkerson’s father got him started with a Hustler 48-inch cut zero-turn mower, and now he has two commercial 54-inch zero-cut mowers that he drives around in his trailer from job to job.
“He will come to morning workouts, and he’s already mowed, he’s already put out mulch, he’s already trimmed hedges, and within 20 minutes after we work out, he’s gone,” Capps said. “He’s got his truck here with the trailer and the push mower, the riding mower, the weed eater, the chainsaw — everything you need — and he’s going right back to work.”
Wilkerson loves what he does, but the challenge comes with balancing the lawn care service with school and football.
He said his grandfather and brother handle the load of the work during the week while he’s busy at school, but Wilkerson will still cut three yards a day, sometimes, on weekdays.
“I fit it in with my schedule somehow, and my family helps me out a lot. It works,” he said. “Me and my dad, we always go to either the diner to eat breakfast or to Hardee’s to eat breakfast. After that, we cut from probably about 8:30 a.m. to about 5:30 or 6:00 on Saturdays, and then come home and try to catch a little bit of football.”
While the business itself is lucrative, Wilkerson said he’s also learned a lot in running the business that will only help him as he goes to college and then into his adult life.
He wants to major in turf management in college, and he’s already laid out some personal business plans for the future of his lawn care service. But there’s one skill, in his opinion, that this whole experience has taught him a lot about.
“Time management,” he said. “I don’t really know any other of my friends that could really run a business, stay A-B honor roll and play football, with everything else that goes on. I just don’t know that they would be able to handle that and figure out the time, because that’s what they always tell me, like, ‘Jalen, I don’t know how you do that.’”
On the football field, Wilkerson has been a key cog on the Bobcats’ defensive line for years, and one of their most productive players on that side of the ball.
However, during Seneca’s win last week at Palmetto, Wilkerson left the game with a knee injury that could potentially be season ending.
Wilkerson will have an MRI on his knee either late this week or early next week to know for sure what the issue is, but Wilkerson was making his case to Capps to be back out on the field on Friday when Seneca hosts Belton-Honea Path.
“Jalen’s already talking about bracing it and playing and (dealing with the injury) after the season,” Capps said. “That’s the type of player he is, that’s the type of kid he is. So we’re sort of in a wait-and-see pattern right now.”
“I’ve just been praying, and God’s the only way through everything, so I’m just going to put it in His hands,” Wilkerson added. “And whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to be as positive as I can. I have a lot of people backing me, especially my coaches and my teammates, so we’re just going to see what happens.”
Both on and off the field, it’s clear Wilkerson is a determined worker.
Sure, a lot of high school students have jobs to make some cash and get work experience, but how many can say they own their own business? While balancing a senior year and football player’s schedule, mind you.
Wilkerson may not get to sleep in as much as he would like on Saturdays, but once he gets to work, he remembers why he started this whole business in the first place.
And he knows his hard work now will pay off in the future.
“It’s fun, and it’s something different. It’s just not the same thing every single day,” he said. “Yeah, it’s cutting grass, but you handle different problems and you run into different things that you have to overcome.
“But I think it’s just going to prepare me in life. Even if I don’t own this landscape business or whatnot, I think it’s taught me to be a man and to be able to handle situations, as well as talk to adults. I talk to a lot of older people all the time, and just negotiating and figuring out a plan and being confident in myself. I know that I can go conduct business with anybody I want to, and that’s just what I’ve gotten the most out of this.”
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