To say that it has been a season of tremendous adversity for the Guernsey-Sunrise Viking football team, would be an understatement.
They went from a team who saw only three victories last season to not winning a game this year. There are reasons for that. Not excuses, because this team is full of kids who don’t give up or offer excuses after the losses.
One player said so beautifully, “we don’t lose, we learn.”
But the reasons are there. This very small school, because of the size of their enrollment (which was a handful of kids over last season) crossed the “attendance line” and had to switch to nine-man football. So, it’s a different game.
This in itself can be challenging to change all the schemes that you’ve coached and played for years and move to another gear. Add to this fact, that the quarterback who was the field general for Guernsey for three years, moved to Lingle. They also lost some big bodies to graduation.
With a freshman quarterback at the helm who has weathered the storm admirably, the team boasts 50% of its players who are freshmen. So, it’s a young team.
Their senior leadership is anchored by Caleb Christensen who had never played football before, but came in because the coach needed more bodies.
When Pine Bluffs came to Guernsey it was evident that some of these bigger schools have not only been in the 9-man system for years, but they boast 31 players on their sideline to Guernsey’s… 3. So, the team is small in numbers.
As injuries took out the GSHS top veteran, Aidan Noggle, the bench became even more lonely.
This past week, an adversity hit the team which nobody could have expected. Offensive and Defensive player, Evan Davis got the news only a day before last Thursday’s game. His dad was killed in a freak farming accident.
He felt that although his heart was breaking and he tried to remain strong, he was as the rest of this team that puts on the pads and the black and white jerseys, team matters. “Win or lose,” they say. “We are family.”
“It was one of the most emotional weeks I've ever experienced as a coach,” six-year head coach Curtis Cook said. “Your heart just breaks and you wish that you could solve the problem because that's what we do we're problem solvers we try to fix things for our players and our teams but this you can't fix. You know that it's going to affect your team as a whole because they're so close as teammates, having known each other since kindergarten in some cases. Couple that with having a very young football team you never know what you're going to get emotionally.”
At the conclusion of another drubbing last week at the hands of Wright High School, 65-0, Davis who was doing his job was hit hard after a play was over. He had to come out of the game due to a bloody nose, and you just wondered if things could get much worse.
He looked up through blurry eyes and the blood and smiled and said, “I’ll be all right.” It was evident that not only a lineman from Wright High School, but life in general was punching Davis in the face.
As the game ended, the emotions that Cook wondered about brought a pressure on a young man who ended up collapsing in tears on the field. It was hitting him. His dad who always greeted him after the game was gone.
The team rushed to his side and circled around him on their knees, some offering words of encouragement, some offering tears of compassion. As Coach Cook spoke to his team, he talked about family. About brothers. About pride in the adversity.
Perhaps the most profound thing he said was, "It's times like these that we remember it's so much more than just the game."
Eventually this rag-tag team of often heckled players got up as one unit and silently walked off the field together, for the last time this year. They knew it may not be their last loss. Teammates all knew that life could just as easily happen to them. But what this taught them all was that they’d never have to shoulder it alone.
And when life happens, sometimes that’s all you need to hear.