As Leeds celebrated its Class 4A championship at midfield in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday, Deshler’s Jake Norwood looked on displaying little emotion.
Leeds claimed its third blue trophy to accompany hardware from Class 3A titles in 2008 and 2010, posting its fourth shutout of the playoffs to capture a convincing 30-0 victory.
But for Norwood, the moment was numbing. Rather than focusing on what might have been, his thoughts drifted to the events over the last few months that have changed him and his teammates forever.
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Deshler coach Jake Linville, in his first season after being promoted to replace legendary Tiger coach John Mothershed, died in October from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This came on the heels of the murder of volunteer coach and former Deshler player Brioni Rutland in November of last year.
“Nobody can understand all that we’ve been through,” said Norwood, a 6-foot, 275-pound senior lineman. “We’re family more than most teams. Coach Linville always said our goal was to win the last game. We didn’t quite do that, but we’ve learned a lot about life in the process.”
Michael Statom, who was named interim coach following Linville’s death, attempted to put the last few weeks into a broader perspective.
“It was an emotional day for us today, but it’s emotional every day we step on the field. I heard some folks say prior to this game, ‘Hey, win or lose, it’s been a great season.’ I just don’t like that. That’s concessionary,” Statom said.
“It would have been a storybook finish if we won, but we didn’t and we have to deal with losing. I told the guys we aren’t going to be defined by the outcome of one football game. I know these men, because of what they’ve gone through, have the character to take this and learn from it.”
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