“I’ll just remember to are the person your mom wished you to be”; The Palatka Excessive Faculty soccer coach tackles the 20s whereas elevating a profitable teenager

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) – A Palatka High School football coach tackled his twenties raising a teenager en route to the pros.

When his soon-to-be coach Ulysses Tobler met the now 21-year-old college football athlete Ajay Belanger in middle school, Tobler knew he had potential.

“You could just say he was young, something like this raw talent,” said Tobler.

Fast forward to getting him home after a workout and becoming a father figure, the two bonded when he became Ajay’s coach at Clay County High School. With that role came responsibility.

Ajay’s mother, Lisa Durrence, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 15.

“In Orlando we actually found that it was the size of a golf ball and that she was really sick,” Belanger said.

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At just 24, Tobler had a life-changing conversation with Lisa.

“‘Are you going to take over our child completely?” It was like a joke, “explained Tobler. “I thought yes I will”

“He was the dad I needed and I just didn’t want anyone else to be my guardian,” Belanger said.

The imminent loss of his mother put a strain on his everyday life.

“I just didn’t want to do anything after her death,” said Belanger.

Now, he said, because coach Tobler had urged him to do his best, he had done things that he could not imagine.

“Even graduation and studies,” said Belanger.

He played wide receiver for the Tusculum Pioneers in Tennessee and is now on the transfer portal because Tobler has accepted him.

Tobler now continues to train and teach at Palatka High School and is still helping kids achieve their dreams just like he did for Ajay.

“That is my mission,” said Tobler. “It’s my goal in life, to create an opportunity to break cycles and simply give children opportunities.”

He didn’t fumble this mission with Ajay by letting him know he would always be there.

“I am with you every step of the way and will make sure that you are the man your mother wanted you to be,” Belanger recalls of a conversation with Tobler.

“Did I help save his life? I don’t know, ”said Tobler.

He knows he has helped build a successful path for Ajay.

Ajay Belanger lost his mother to cancer at the age of 15. His high school football coach stepped in, adopted him, and now he’s a SAC champion at 21!

Check out this unique Father’s Day story of a coach tackling his twenties while raising a teen at 11 tonight. @ WCJB20 pic.twitter.com/CDQDokbAsh

– Camille Syed (@camillesyedtv) June 21, 2021

“I gave him a new life to be someone he always imagined,” added Tobler.

Breaking stigma and shaping young men will always be his main goal.

TV20 partnered with ESPN’s The Undefeated on this story. Read more by clicking here.

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