For many of his teammates at Forest Hill, where all students qualify for free lunch, the game is a means to an end. Their love of it comes second.

That way out disappeared last month. In August, Jackson Public Schools canceled all fall activities, citing Mississippi’s surging coronavirus infection rate. It was an unparalleled step in a state where the governor had just declared college football “essential.”

Winn’s mom told him to stop training and get a job. He found one, making $7.25 an hour at a nearby McDonald’s.

“That’s not really enough to pay for college,” Winn said.