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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

A tough football season for DeSoto ends with lessons during a century-old rivalry

Fans watching a football game in the stands
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
DeSoto High fans watch the action during the Nov. 3 game against Hardee Senior High in Wauchula.

DeSoto High wraps up a winless campaign with support from family and fans.

It was not an easy season for DeSoto County High School’s football team.

With a new coach in a rebuilding year plagued with injuries, the Bulldogs were undersized and outmatched in nearly every game. Their opponents scored at least 40 points in every game except one. They were shut out seven times.

Lightning cut short one game. Gunshots nearby prompted an early end to another, against Booker High, as fans and players fled from the stadium.

The Bulldogs ended the season Nov. 3 in Wauchula, with a 48-0 shellacking by their rival, Hardee Senior High School. The two schools have played each other every year since 1921, making it the longest continuous high school football rivalry in Florida.

Parents, students and supporters, cheerleaders and the small marching band filled the stands, as they have every Friday night this fall.

By halftime, it was 48-0 and a few DeSoto fans began leaving. But on the top row of the bleachers, one group of fans continued cheering.

Kevin Erickson and family were watching his son Harper, a sophomore. “It's been a long year,” he confided.

Close-up of two men in the stands cheering
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
Kevin Erickson, left, and Terry Rexroth cheer on their son and grandson Harper Erickson, a sophomore at DeSoto.

Lessons learned

Erickson, a geometry teacher at DeSoto High, says his son, understandably, got discouraged at times. "It’s like (he said), ‘I don't know if I even want to play.’ I said, ‘Yes, you do.’”

"He'll grumble about different things. I say, Here's the deal. You have three years left to put on the pads in your entire life -- and you love this game."

Harper was rewarded that night. "He got to start tonight, actually, for the first three plays on offense," Erickson said. "Just as a reward because he showed up every night."

What does he hope his son has learned this season? “Perseverance,” he said, saying Harper enjoys being a part of the team, the camaraderie and the friendships. “It really helps him to be connected and stay on top of things and learn to be responsible, so it's been a good experience overall.”

Erickson said he welcomed the end of the season. “We'll do a lot of other things. Probably sit at home and have a campfire or, yeah, go to bed early.”

A wish for ‘one more Friday night’

After the game, the DeSoto players lined up one last time as a team. One senior, who could not play, hugged his teammates one by one. He was in street clothes, with a large brace protecting his left knee.

Vincent Tew suffered a season-ending injury a few games into the season. Tears welled in his eyes as his high school career ended on the sidelines.

“I just wanted one more game,” Tew said. “I’m upset that it's over and I just wish I had one more, one more ‘Friday Night Lights’ with them. That's all I want.”

Tew said he had been looking forward to the Hardee game. “This is the game that I wanted to play all season, but even though it didn't go the way I want, I'm glad I got to spend it with my guys.

"They pushed me to be a better person. I'm nowhere near who I was two years ago. I'm such a better person than I was two years ago ... and I'm so appreciative for every single one of them."

Tew says his next goal is to get healthy, to join a bigger team. "I’ve got to get my knee better; I swore in over the summer to the Army, and I leave June 18th and from there, it's finish basic (training). Hopefully go to Ranger school. That's the plan."

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at jdela@cncfl.org

A player hugs a teammate on the field
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
Senior Vincent Tew hugs a teammate after the final game of the season Nov. 3. Tew suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season and could not play his final high school game.

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