Harley helps Sugar Skulls overcome challenges with his background of facing adversity


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Jujuan Harley says his leadership style is not rah-rah, but pulling teammates aside and talking to them about life because “football is life … if I can get you focused and disciplined off the field, I know on the field it’s going to help.” (Darryl Webb/Sugar Skulls photo)

Jajuan Harley has faced adversity throughout his football existence from his days at his native Tallahassee, Fla., playing for Florida State, transferring to Middle Tennessee State and then trying to make the roster of the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as an undrafted safety.

He has spent the last seven years playing professional indoor football with stops in Bemidji, Minn., Albany, Ga., Des Moines, Iowa, and now Tucson.

He has lost his father John in recent years and his mother Cynthia was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was with the Iowa Barnstormers in 2019.

All of that makes losing an Indoor Football League game on a Saturday night at the TCC seem futile. Harley and the Sugar Skulls did just that, 33-13, in a humbling defeat against his former team.

No matter the shortcoming, however, Harley is a guy Sugar Skulls coach Dixie Wooten can rely on to try to set things straight when hardship occurs.

“Some times things don’t go your way,” Harley said. “It’s how you respond. That’s what life is — how you respond to adversity.

“What’s really going to show what kind of man are you? If you are a man that when adversity hits, you’re going to crumble? Or are you going to be the type of guy like, ‘Okay, alright, let’s go. I took it on the chin, let’s go. I got knocked down nine times and got up 10. You have to do it.’”

Tucson Sugar Skulls coach Dixie Wooten on facing his former team, the Iowa Barnstormers, on Saturday night: “It was fun. We won a lot of games over there. Seeing those guys, it was a great, great feeling. At the end of the day, I love my guys here and I wanted to beat them.” (Darryl Webb/Sugar Skulls photo)

Harley said he has conversed in this manner with quarterback Demry Croft, who has experienced the highs and lows expected of a rookie three games into his indoor football career.

Croft followed his IFL Offensive Player of the Week performance last week in a win at the Duke City Gladiators in Albuquerque with a troublesome outing against Iowa.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher quarterback passed for 154 yards and completed 18 of 25 passes, but he threw two interceptions and showed hesitancy that led to three sacks. Tucson was 3 of 10 on third- and fourth-down conversions, never really finding a rhythm on offense.

“I’ve got a young quarterback, so like last week, I’ve got to put him in the right situation to be successful, and I didn’t do that tonight,” Wooten said.

With toughminded, team-first players like Harley around, Wooten can meet his objective of making Tucson (1-2 after Saturday’s loss) a winning organization.

Harley, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies at Middle Tennessee State in 2015, has helped organize team-bonding excursions such as hiking and climbing Tucson’s mountainous areas and hosting a barbecue with the team and coaching staff.

“We’re working out the kinks; I still feel like we’re growing together,” Harley said. “We recently did some bonding, went mountain climbing and everything. I have to figure out some other bonding techniques to gel.

“It’s just like life, when you think about it. You have your older generation and the younger generation. Its always that middle ground where you have to meet. We have to find that middle ground.”

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The Sugar Skulls’ mascot takes a selfie with some fans (Darryl Webb/Sugar Skulls photo)

He mentioned he plans to have a barbecue with his teammates and coaches on Sunday as a means to bond and refocus after the disheartening loss to Iowa.

“I want to have a cookout, want to talk, put everything on the table,” Harley said. “And then Monday we’ll start breaking down film. We’re going to figure out ways to get on the same page, yes.”

Harley mentioned the players try to get to the top of a mountain, but not all of them make it that far. That does not matter. The attempt and the time together is paramount.

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The Skull Squad spirit team is a good idea by the Sugar Skulls to engage with fans and keep them entertained (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

He said he reached 4,000 feet. Ryan Balentine, another former Barnstormer who played for Wooten there, Malik Stanley and former Baltimore Ravens defensive back Matt Elam advanced further to the top.

“We all got messages from that,” Harley said. “Different things that we do, we are trying to get messages, not just to bring to the field, but to life.

“If you take care of life, concentrate on life, it will take care of itself on the field.”

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District