IMMOKALEE — Nose flaring and eyes bulging, Wiselet Rouzard grabbed teammate John Paul’s shoulder pads and body slammed him with such force that the ground shook.The Immokalee High senior linebacker then picked up the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Paul, yelled through his face mask and flung him to the ground again.Rouzard had had enough. Paul, a gifted junior defensive tackle, was lackadaisical in a practice. Once again, he was not realizing his vast potential.
Since Rouzard and Paul fought during that practice in September, Paul has been a different player. Zipping to the quarterback with reckless abandon, Paul is now third on the team in tackles. His teammates call him “The Unblockable.” Paul said that he would still be “slacking” without Rouzard’s inspiration.The altercation is just one example of the leadership that Immokalee’s four captains have provided this season. Rouzard, senior defensive back Rodelin Anthony, junior offensive/defensive lineman Esdras Duperard and senior quarterback Phillip Perez are significant reasons why Immokalee has advanced to the Class 2A state title game.
“The leadership on this team has been as good as any club I’ve had in my 30 years of coaching,” Indians coach John Weber said. “These guys really understand what being a captain means. I couldn’t ask for four better captains than these four.”THE VOCAL LEADERThe team was conducting a defensive drill when Rouzard exploded.
“I wanted to straighten John Paul out because I knew he was the key ingredient to our success on defense,” Rouzard said. “If I can get that key ingredient on my team, I’ll do anything in my power.”
That includes body slamming a teammate three times. Afterward, Weber spoke to Rouzard and Paul individually. Then the coach brought the two into his office.
“John Paul was crying because he was so mad,” Rouzard said. “He looked like he was going to blow up and come after me.”Instead, Paul extended his right hand.
“Yo,” said Paul, wiping away tears, “thanks man.””Thanks for what?” Rouzard said.
“I know I haven’t been playing well,” Paul said, “but if that’s what it takes, then I’m going to start playing hard.”Asked how his team has recovered from a 1-2 start, Weber often points to The Unblockable’s emergence.”Ever since that fight, he’s been a beast,” Rouzard said. “It takes three or four people to block that kid.”
When asked about the fight at a recent practice, Paul smiled. “That woke me up,” he said.
THE QUIET LEADER
Perez doesn’t lead with words or with body slams. He leads by example. Perez has a fiancee and a 8-month-old daughter named Jazmyn. After practice, he works at Hungry Howie’s Pizza.”He’s working for a new life, working for his daughter,” Rouzard said. “Much love, much love. He’s a very mature guy.”The 5-9, 170-pound Perez has thrown for 1,278 yards and 11 touchdowns. It’s a breakout season few predicted.
“He’s always one of the last people to leave practice,” Weber said. “He’s a guy that everybody on the team looks up to.”
Like Rouzard, Anthony is a vocal leader. He has a 4.5 grade-point average and is ranked fifth in his class.He is the state and national president of the Beta Club, which is a student leadership group.”So every second of his day is consumed with something,” Weber said. “He takes courses I’ve never heard of.”
Anthony said his role as captain started during the team’s first practice.”It’s not like we got to the playoffs and all of a sudden we became big old buff captains,” he said. “We’ve been leading since day one.”
Duperard, Immokalee’s left tackle, is the oldest member of the Indians’ young offensive line. He makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage.”He’s a real leader in terms of watching film with the young linemen, pointing out things that I never dreamed of,” Weber said.
Together, the foursome have led with words, action and sometimes body slams.”Getting in teammate’s faces happens on any club, but I think because of that, the younger guys responded and listened,” Weber said. “I’m not sure without those four guys we’d be where we are right now.”