Julius Forte stood on Gulfport Beach coaching six teenage boys.
He’d laid out a course: first came the rope, then the cones.
For an hour, he helped them develop their football skills — quickness and agility.
But the real work came later.
Away from the beach, under a pavilion, they peeled off their football gloves.
Forte, a 6-foot-5 former defensive end for the University of South Florida, handed them mixing bowls, spoons and seasonings.
He smiled as the teens took their positions — dicing, sauteing, chopping — to make a spaghetti dinner.
They looked as comfortable in the kitchen as on the field.
That was the goal.
Forte’s nonprofit organization — Greater University Inc. — helps young men learn lessons and develop fellowship.
He was like them once. He knows how football dreams can die.
His plan B became culinary school. Then in 2017, he started his own catering company, Forte Fuels.
Greater U was co-founded with Richard Prince, a friend he met at youth basketball when they were 7 years old.
"Unfortunately, literally everyone that I grew up hanging out with, as far as my neighborhood goes, is either dead or in jail," Forte said. "I could of been easily a statistic. Cooking saved my life."
For Forte, food and football are both about healthy choices.
He isn’t the type of coach to bark and say "drop and give me 20." Instead, when the kids yell out "how many?" Forte responds with a smirk. "How many are you going to do?"
Greater U is a free program. It operates from "our hearts, not from our pockets," said Prince, who works in the mayor’s office. "This is our service, this is our charity."
Steven Brown, 16, and Kyler Reynolds, 17, are grateful for the mentors and the meals.
It feels like family, Brown said.
"We push each other," he said. "There’s no days off."