Jorge Diaz was the last of the Richmond Oilers to step onto the football field Friday night, for what would be the last time he’d ever make that walk as a player.
To no one in particular Diaz belted out his favorite phrase: “They might not like it, they might not love it, but they’re going to learn to live with it.” He was quiet for a moment, and then with little fanfare he weaved onto the field through a crowd of junior varsity players and fans still celebrating the JV team’s win. His cleats crunched through ice cubes that had scattered when the JV players showered their coaches.
Fifty minutes before kickoff in the final football game of his Oiler career, Diaz immediately set to work. For the next several hours, he would be rooted to that hundred-yard patch of synthetic turf.
Diaz led the Oilers in midfield jumping jacks, yelling out the letters in “Richmond Oilers” to keep the pace. “O!” Eighteen players, a small group for a varsity team, bounce. “I!” the sound rises from midfield, drawing the attention of the handful of fans in the stadium. “L!” Diaz leads by example, facing his opponents with his teammates behind him. “E!” It is a frigid, clear night in Richmond. The stadium lights overhead gleam in the Oilers’ white helmets. “R!” Diaz’s long hair, a tribute to his Samoan heritage, bobs up and down with him. “S!” The sweat drips down the players’ faces.
The cheer breaks and Diaz shifts to warm-up drills. He’s the small-team athlete who plays everything, all the time, and his routine reflects it: linebacker drills to defensive drills, defensive drills to offensive line drills, offensive line drills to special teams drills, all conducted at a frantic, buzzing pace.
Even after his teammates have gone to the locker room, Diaz remains on the field,
practicing long-snapping to his punter. For four minutes it is just the two of them alone on the field under the lights.
With 18 minutes to kickoff, Diaz finally stops his football warm-ups, and his senior night duties begin.
For the first time in an hour his demeanor changes. He greets his mother and sister, and quickly lodges himself between them. Nervous chatter fills the air as the cheerleaders and players stand in line, waiting for their names to be called. Diaz looks forward, with his head held high, grasping the hands of his mother, Satu, and sister, Rebecca.
He emerges from under the bleachers, with his name booming out of the stadium PA. In the stands he can hear people yell his name. He clutches the hands of his mother and sister as he looks forward. His head drops slightly. He begins to breathe deeply. The lights above the football field glimmer in his teary eyes.
As he steps onto the field, he links arms with his sister and mother. Arriving on the sideline, he is handed a thin bouquet of white flowers wrapped tightly in plastic. He hands the flowers to his mom. In front of him, he sees his non-senior teammates, and his coaches, lining both side of the 50-yard-line, shouting his name.
“That was a magical moment,” Satu Diaz said later. “It was a joyous moment.”
Friday night, for only the second time, Satu Diaz was able to watch her son play in person.
The ceremony ends, Satu and Rebecca walk to their seats in the stands, and Diaz remains on the field. The transformation back to the frantic mad-man from warm-ups begins.
With three minutes to kickoff, Diaz gathered his teammates together and started convulsing and yelling in a way that would only seem normal on a football field. For the last time, Diaz could be utterly uninhibited. He threw his head back and screamed to the sky at the top of his lungs. He was at the center of the world.
As the huddle broke up, the anticipation of the game began. Diaz snuck in a quick smile, almost laughing at his performance. His red mouth guard covering his teeth. The teams then lined up for the playing of the National Anthem, another momentary pause from the task at hand.
Diaz begins the game on defense, where he likes to throw his weight around. There’s something settling in the controlled violence, and Diaz’s anticipatory jitters dissipate early. On the second play of the game, Diaz stormed into the backfield to take down the De Anza running back.
The game ebbed and flowed with Diaz’s passion: high moments in the opponents’ backfield, but low moments, too: a 15-yard late-hit penalty on a kickoff that led to a game-tying score. Diaz didn’t have time to hang his head: he couldn’t even leave the field.
One sequence in particular seemed to epitomize Diaz’s night. With six minutes left in the game, Diaz, broke through the Don’s offensive line and wrestled the De Anza player for a loss, forcing a fourth and 15. Richmond fielded the punt but fumbled on the next play, and the Oilers went back on defense. Richmond defensive players who had come off the field for special teams had to scramble to get back on the field. Diaz, though, had never left. In four plays he went from defense to special teams to offense to defense – but never to the sideline.
With less than three minutes to go, Oiler senior Tra’von Clay ran for a 51-yard touchdown to give Richmond the lead. Diaz, who was on the field as a blocker, celebrated by chest bumping a teammate near the 30-yard-line and convulsing in exultation as he faced his sideline.
Now, with two minutes left, it was up to the defense to protect the 14-6 lead. Diaz had been on the field for the entire game. It didn’t slow him down: on the first De Anza play, Diaz shot through the line untouched and stuffed the Don’s running back for a three yard loss. Two plays later, on fourth down, Oiler Deshawn Clark intercepted De Anza’s desperation pass and sealed the victory.
The ensuing chaos was a blur. Coach Tashaka Merriweather was showered by a celebratory ice bath, the Oilers took the field to shake hands with the De Anza players, and the Oilers then repeated their “Richmond Oilers” cheer at midfield.
As the referees, coaches and the players began to clear the field, Diaz, remained, unwilling to leave. He found his girlfriend, Richmond Cheerleader Lorely Garcia, and they embraced. Diaz posed for pictures with some of his senior teammates, and with the Richmond Cup. Two frustrating losing seasons had been absolved in one single night.
After a loss, players and coaches cannot get off the field fast enough. For all of last year, and for most of this year, Diaz has been among the players hustling to exit the field. But Friday night, the game and the outcome were different. The Oilers players and coaches lingered on the field for as long as they could. Diaz’s mother, his three siblings, his aunt, and cousin, waited patiently for him under the stands.
And then finally, with a smile of a young man who has seen too many lows on the football field, not to squeeze out every last moment of enjoyment out of this high, with his long flowing hair drenched in sweat, Jorge Diaz walked off the field for the final time as a Richmond Oiler.