Season in seclusion, part 3: The drive for a state championship
Tears ballooning from his eyes, Matich seeks the wisdom of assistant coach Larry Eldracher. “Part of our journey together is not about winning and losing — it’s about becoming a man and you got a lesson in that today,” offered Eldracher, who won seven state titles in 19 years at Skyline. “It just barely went against us today. In my heart — 'til the day I die — I will always believe this was one of the finest football teams that Utah has ever seen. I’m very proud of you. Stand tall and we’ll move forward with class.”
Sorrow impairs the captains’ posture. Seniors reluctantly stay padded to prevent the inevitable. It’s over. Voices crack and throats clear. “Wow. That went fast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Curtis says. “I’ll never forget this.”
Jager Chynoweth stands, his face smeared in eye-black. “We’ve all had a lot of (terrible) things happen in our lives,” he cries. “One thing I’ll always remember is a quote, ‘The righteous live in deep water.’ I know we all feel like we’re drowning right now, but we’ve got to keep fighting. You got to keep swinging, men. Thank you for giving me 14 weeks and being my brothers.”
Huddled together, the team proclaims “family” for the final time. Players collect their belongings and slowly loiter in separate directions. East failed. There’s no consolation prize for second place and eventually, over time, the Leopards will escape memory into the forgotten. But for those involved, an enduring legacy was engraved.
“It taught me how, if you bond together and become a family, that you can accomplish anything — even though we didn’t finish,” Baptiste said. “The only thing that’s on my mind is how much all of my brothers changed my life. I love this program.”
That afternoon 64 kids lost in the game of football, but prevailed in something far more meaningful. They overcame cultural and class differences, ignored misguided opinions, and implanted lifelong friendships. Against all odds, they banded together
And climbed Mount Everest.