End of a journey

Sports CommentaryNovember 19, 2013 

The Minaret Mustangs football team ended their season Nov. 8 in grand fashion with a thrilling, come from behind victory with a field goal as time expired to win their last game of the season, 31-28 over Laton.

As team members sat across from one another for their final pre-game meal last Friday, they were reminded that this would be the last time for many to dine together.

Tears flowed — coach Bob Kelly asked them not to cry, but to embrace their emotions, and to play with those emotions.

As the team captains walked onto the field for the coin toss, I thought, how fitting that Keenan Reardon, Jackson Soares, and Angel Saenz should represent their team — the same three have been suiting up with one another since fourth-grade. Senior Matt Koen joined the three at midfield.

This group of 22 seniors were bound and determined to go out winners, as quarterback Reardon brought them to the huddle for the last drive of their high school careers. They drove the ball 56 yards in two minutes, overcoming two fourth and long plays and clutch catches. The drive featured a spectacular catch by Reyes. Reyes was part of the hook and ladder play that went for 26 yards as the Mustangs were facing fourth and 23.

As the football sailed through the up-rights for the game-winning field goal by Chance Carter, the sidelines, along with the bleachers stormed the field.

What I found most memorable was how important a roll each player had on that final drive, individually, from the huddle to the sidelines, memories they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

Team members embraced one another for the last time in uniform, as they took pictures with one another, they finally realized what it all meant — why they do it, what drives them and the coaches to come out and work their tails off day after day.

They came face to face with the end of a journey, and the tears that filled their eyes were not the tears of seasons passed, of failure, of dreams dashed. This time they were tears of joy — of brotherhood — of becoming the young men that they have become.

These seniors are part of something they may not realize until they sit in the stands on a future Friday night. Alumni will return to the field to cheer on future Mustangs, and no doubt conversation will return to the time this group of 22 seniors played on the gridiron together. Not only will they talk of the win and how they ended their high school careers, but they will talk about their "journey."

The journey that started with a handful of student-athletes, their families, and a couple of teacher/coaches that set out to make Minarets a more complete school — not just a school known for its technology and arts, but a well-rounded school that also offers quality athletic programs.

The hours were countless — the time, preparation, planning, meetings, and most importantly, the communication among those that would make it happen. A grant from the Picayune tribe played a large part in helping the team become reality. We are blessed to live in a giving community — it would take a page of this paper to list all the people that were needed to start this journey.

It was Sept. 10, 2010, that the Mustangs played their first ever football game in LeBec, a small school in the hills of the grapevine.

Principal Michael Niehoff, staff, and the student body gave the team a send-off they would will never forget. With music teacher Bill Samuelson's drum corps pounding, all the students were released from class to create a human tunnel that the players ran through on their way to the bus. The players that experienced it, talk about it to this day.

They won the game, 12-7. Thirty players suited up for that game — five have since graduated, five chose to stop playing. Of the 22 seniors that played on the team this year, 17 played four seasons. They persevered through winless seasons, injuries, insults, and coaching changes.

The toughness and the grit that these young men developed along the way will serve them well in their life after high school. These athletes went 4-26 as varsity football players. They endured the first varsity season that went 0-10, suiting up 26 sophomores.

They battled self-doubt as they were defeated week in and week out by more physical and mature teams. Moments like this are one of the unknown pleasures of being a coach — moments that only a select few have the honor of witnessing.

Every good football program has a good youth program and Minarets has one.

The Mustangs enjoy a great fan base, one that is extremely vocal and has been with these boys for four years. Up by 10 or down by 30, this group is always supportive. It was these fans who donated $5,000 to put these players in the best helmets money could buy.

At Friday's game, Chawanakee Superintendent Bob Nelson announced that the Mustangs will be playing on artificial turf next season inside the bowl that will one day be a stadium.

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