At first blush, the East Lee County football team’s quest to help turn the tide of negativity their high school faces by winning the first district championship in the program’s history may appear to be a daunting challenge. But it’s nothing compared to the real-life obstacles many of the team’s players have encountered. Here are a few of their stories.
District championship or not, senior defensive back Skartz Pierre is just happy to be playing. The 18-year-old missed his junior season while spending five months at the Alternative Learning Center after an arrest that was later expunged from his record.
“The whole time I was worried about how I was going to explain it to Coach Jones,” he said. “That’s crazy right? Being worried about what your coach is going to think more than your parents.”
A native of Haiti who moved to Florida when he was 6 years old, Pierre said he didn’t meet his father Nicolas until two years after he arrived in the U.S. They live together but don’t have much of a relationship.
For senior Omaris Tolbert, going hard is the only speed he knows.
A bruising linebacker and running back, Tolbert plays with a fury that belies a relatively slight 170-pound frame. He credits football with keeping him on the right path after his father was murdered in 2003 as a result of what law enforcement officials said was a botched drug deal.
“He’s the reason why I play; he put me in Pop Warner,” said Tolbert, who was 8 years old when his father died. “We were close, but we weren’t as close as I wish we were.
“(When his father died) I was too young to really understand it. When I did, I tried to use it as motivation to make myself get better.”
Tolbert said Jones has helped him continue that process.