The concussion left these inner-city high school football players in tears. There were curses, there was silence, there was rallying and hope, there was a bit of envy over the flashier jerseys of the opposing team.
The Richmond Oilers — a short-manned team that could hardly afford to lose a player — was huddled, in anger and nervousness — to watch number 65, junior Jorge Diaz, who runs the defensive and offensive lines, on a stretcher, his shirt off, paramedics over him after a tackle in the second quarter.
“He’s usually the one giving other people concussions,” said senior Daniel Garcia from the sidelines. Diaz, on the stretcher, called quarterback Davonte Anderson to his side just before he was lifted into the ambulance, as the team huddled and prepared to restart the game.
Anderson, a moment before, had been agitated, struggling to contain his frustrations on the sidelines, nervous. You could hear him say something about how the home team at Pinole Valley High school has “nice flashy jerseys.”
One player put it this way — “We’re Richmond — we get nothing, because we’re Richmond. It’s been like that this whole season, and that’s why we ain’t won a game. … We don’t get no respect around here — every time we play we don’t get no respect.”
And that may be most what the team is looking for — some respect for the courage they take to the field each game, the going at it and the heart that the scoreboard doesn’t show. But last night, their tears showed it, as did the way the Oilers returned to the field.
“We all know Jorge — he’s a fighter — he’s not dead, OK? He’s feeling a little woozy, so they’re taking him in,” Coach Tashaka Merriweather told his team when they huddled. It was a little after 8 p.m., and the game had been going for just over an hour. It would go on for two more, and the Oiler’s seven-point score, by then, still hadn’t changed.
But there was determination — “We’re going to play for you, Jorge,” shouted senior Jonathan Yi as the paramedics carried Diaz, on the stretcher, into the ambulance.
And there was emotion. “Nobody but this group here could ever understand what it took to get through that,” said assistant Coach Marlyn Johnson at the end of the night.
“We didn’t just get through it — we played the game,” he said. “That’s what men do, that’s what teams do, and that’s what families do. Nobody’s ever going to understand that — you take that with you wherever you go — for the rest of this season and for the rest of your lives. I’m proud of you all. Damn proud.”
“You’ve got to play. You’ve got to let them know that you’re not going to back down from a challenge,” said quarterback Isaiah Brown, who encouraged the team throughout the night. Brown didn’t back down when he scored the team’s only touchdown in the first quarter.
“It was a low pass, I kind of scooped it off the ground, as Coach Merriweather was telling me,” Brown said.
And his coach was proud. “It was a big play because it was a consistent drive,” said Merriweather, who touched on the same note at halftime.
“We’ve got to play the most consistent half that we’ve played,” he told he team then. “We got a lot of energy when we got restarted [after Diaz was tackled],” and “We’re losing guys, but we’re filling in. The next man is moving up. That, I am proud of. The show goes on, the train stops for nobody – all right? We’ve got to keep this going.”
There were several plays Friday night that the Oilers were proud of, including a nearly 30 yard pass by Esparza to Brown in the second half.
The final score was 57-7, but, “We endured – we pushed through,” Johnson said.
“Obviously, we go into every game with a stacked deck. But I feel like these guys have … really fought hard to be in the position that they’re in. And just the character and just the heart that these kids have — that’s something that we can’t coach, and that’s in every person out of Richmond.”