Wednesday, against the backdrop of a dark sky and a bleak six-game losing streak, Tolton assistant football coach Vince Morris stood on a soggy, cleat-torn practice field.
“The last six weeks have caused a lot of introspection,” Morris said. “Am I putting these kids in the best position to succeed?”
One factor to be taken into account is the Trailblazers’ competition. They haven’t played another Class 2 school since Week 1, when they beat Hallsville 29-16. At 7 p.m. Friday, though, Tolton (1-6) will host Class 2 opponent Warsaw (2-5).
At practice Tuesday, there was an air of confidence that derailed the team’s focus. Tolton has a size advantage Friday and has been playing vastly better teams than Warsaw.
“Well, (Warsaw) still has one more win than us,” Morris told his team.
By Wednesday, the mood had changed.
“The defense came out and set a goal (without the coaches): no positive yards against the scout team,” Morris said.
In short sleeves and shorts, the Trailblazers battled in the chilly evening air. Mud stains covered the team’s jerseys as it gathered in prayer to close practice.
In the Tolton fold, there’s an intense love of football and a desire to compete. Losses hurt, but they don’t fester. The program’s motto is “INAM”: It’s Not About Me. Maybe it’s just lip service, but every postgame interview seems to include the term “brotherhood.”
And perhaps that’s the legacy of this season, of this senior class. Friday is senior night.
Years from now when Jared Thompson, Robert Hunter, Luke Guinn, Chris Ortiz, Ben Breitwiser, Cole Hedrick, Jack Drummond, Parker Haight, Kyle Albrecht, Montgomery Mills, Will Waterman, Harrison McCrary, Joe Jenner and Jack Washer reminisce about Friday night, Morris doesn’t think they’ll remember the score or the opponent.
“They’ll remember the people they played with,” Morris said.
Most home games, the Tolton sideline includes packs of former players and students. For a Friday night, that means something.
“They just want to be here — to hang out with the people they played with,” Morris said.
Morris himself didn’t make it to senior night; a back problem made playing football impossible by his junior year. But his passion never waned.
“Nothing beats the pageantry and emotion of high school football,” Morris said. “It’s the purest form of love for the game.”
Morris spent time as a student assistant at MU and had the opportunity to move to Texas to work with football players, but his love and loyalty to the Tolton program made him stay.
Investing in the lives of Tolton’s football players means a lot, so when players like Ortiz and Waterman walk out onto the field with their parents Friday, Morris will cherish the growth he’s seen.
“Waterman hadn’t seen a single varsity snap until this year, but he slid into a starting role and hasn’t looked back,” Morris said.
Ortiz has a similar story; he entered his final year with stiff competition for a spot at safety, but his four years of hard work at the program were evident to coaches Morris and Lee Franklin, who couldn’t be more proud of his growth — he’s earned his spot.
On Wednesday, Morris walked alone in the darkness towards his truck; practice had ended an hour earlier. Behind the truck, the lights of Tolton shone brightly in the night.
Late Friday, as Tolton seeks its second win, maybe the light will be twice as bright.
Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.