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Hurricane Harvey hit this high school hard, but its football team fights on

For the first time in two weeks, Angelo Trevino had a home.

The expanse of a green field lay in front of him. The soft glow of an orange sunset sank behind him. There it was — 100 yards marked off in white lines, bracketed by end zones and limitless possibility.

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There was more green than he'd seen since Hurricane Harvey laid waste to his grandmother's home. His mom's home. His coach's home. So many homes.

It wasn't his football field. His field back at Rockport-Fulton High School still had no lights. Two-thirds of the scoreboard rested in a trash heap out by the parking lot. The goal posts were down. At practices, players were still finding debris — broken glass, shards of wood — in the grass. The gym next to the field was missing most of a wall, and metal rain gutters were twisted by the winds as if they were no thicker than paper clips.

Angelo, a 16-year-old junior, tried to put it all out of his mind. This was Friday night, and in Texas, that meant one thing — high school football games. Mostly, he just wanted to feel normal.

The coach, Jay Seibert, decided a few days after the hurricane that his team would play its season opener Friday at Sinton High School — about 40 minutes inland from Rockport. He hoped to teach the players about overcoming adversity. To show Rockport's resiliency. To give the team a chance to focus on something other than tragedy for a few hours. He also wanted to avenge last season's loss to Sinton and win the game.

He had his players spend their mornings practicing and their afternoons helping residents clean up the town. Before the kickoff against Sinton, the visitor's-side bleachers were almost full. Rockport had come to watch and cheer for the team.

"Remember who you play for. You play for each other," Seibert told them. "In this case, we're also playing for our family and friends in our community. We're playing for everyone."

On the field, they had one last huddle. Rockport would receive. Angelo, an offensive lineman, would be on the field first.

"Let's go!" he yelled after the kickoff.

Two weeks of energy pent up since the storm were released, and the crowd roared. Molly Frost, a sophomore volleyball player, banged a frying pan with a wooden stick while her friends yelled around her.

Angelo's family — a clan of 13 — sat in two rows of bleachers. His mother, Heather Rollins, wore a T-shirt that read, "I can't keep calm, I'm a football mom." His uncle, who helped with the inflatable tunnel out of which the team ran, paced and stalked around the end zone with nervous energy.

Evettee Lozano, wearing a #RockportStrong T-shirt, hadn't been to a Pirates road game since her son graduated in 2015. She hoped they'd win, but after weeks of standing in debris and rubble and tearing moldy interiors out of buildings made by her construction company, she was simply thankful the team was giving her three hours of normalcy. For her, that felt like a gift.

"In a lot of ways, this feels exactly like Friday night," Lozano said.

Hurricane Harvey's eye passed over Rockport — about 30 minutes up the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi — Aug. 25 and left the city in tatters. For two weeks, National Guard units, utility workers and relief agencies have been working to help the 10,000 residents try to get the city running again.

Before the hurricane, large oak trees were so thick in places that houses were hidden behind their green, leafy limbs. After the hurricane, it looked like Rockport was in the middle of a winter — barren, brown trees framing its mess of toppled churches, splintered houses and empty businesses.

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Chainsaws and small tractors have been cutting and clearing away the dead trees piled high on the side of the road, and residents have been covering the curbs with waterlogged furniture.

Frank Johnson and his 14-year-old son, Michael Ramos, said they hadn't stopped clearing debris from their home and that repairs were daunting. But driving by the football field, Johnson stopped to take in an abnormal site that, on any other day, would've looked normal: a football practice.

He graduated from Rockport more than two decades ago. His daughter is graduating this year, and his son hopes to play for the Pirates next year. He said seeing the team practice for Friday night was inspiring.

"They're setting an example," Johnson said. "I think it's great."

Seibert, who is in his fourth year coaching at Rockport, said he wasn't sure what to expect when he first contacted his coaching staff and players about playing so soon after the hurricane. When he proposed a voluntary practice to see how many would show up, he wasn't sure what to expect.

About half of the team came. He cried.

J.D. Medrano, an assistant coach, said when the practice was over, he told Angelo he could change in the locker room. But Angelo didn't have a change of clothes. He only had what he was wearing.

"It broke my heart to hear that," Medrano said. "But here he was, showing up to practice anyway."

The team began holding practices during the week leading up to the game, and by then more than 90% of the players were showing up. Primarily a running team, they drilled on plenty of sweeps and counters. Rushing the ball and playing defense wins games, Seibert has preached.

He hoped to be able to execute that game plan against Sinton, but after his team fell behind early, 13-6, he knew he'd have to make adjustments at halftime.

The crowd's emotion helped carry the team as cheers erupted with every first down. The school band couldn't make it to the game, as their instruments weren't accessible amid the damage, so a DJ played recorded music through a loudspeaker. The cheerleaders arrived, however, and worked tirelessly.

Sinton, which didn't sustain much hurricane damage, cheered for Rockport before the game, with greeters high-fiving the players as they arrived at the field.

Krista Boscamp and her mother, Paula Boscamp, were decked out in maroon — Sinton's colors — but were hanging a poster on the fence by the Rockport fans. It read, "Rivals On The Field. Allies Through It All. Pirate Strong."

Krista, an eighth-grader, said they chose to mix the green and maroon colors in the poster. Both teams are the Pirates.

"We just wanted to show them that we're with them," she said.

But the Sinton football team had other ideas.

Slowly, the team increased its lead, scoring two more touchdowns while keeping Rockport out of the end zone. As the clock wound down to the final seconds, the Sinton announcer said, "We are behind you, Rockport — 100%."

The final score was 25-6. Sinton head coach Tom Allen headed to the middle of the field to shake Seibert's hand. Allen called both teams together, and they huddled on their knees for a prayer.

Allen said something bigger happened than a football game.

"I honestly can't put myself in Coach Seibert's shoes, and I don't know how I would have reacted to this situation," Allen said. "I hope that just by getting out here and playing football helped with the healing."

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Seibert gathered his players and didn't mince words about their performance. Too many penalties. Too many turnovers. Not enough broken tackles by running backs. But he also told them he was proud of them.

"Don't think by losing this game that changes what kind of men you are," he said.

Reality was starting to settle in, however. The three-hour respite from the hurricane aftermath was winding down.

Seibert told the players they would have to enroll in other schools in the area for at least the next four weeks while their campus underwent repairs. If the players didn't enroll somewhere, they wouldn't be able to play football for Rockport.

Angelo was upset. He missed his friends and knew they'd be scattered for at least a month. For three hours during the game, he knew exactly where his place in the world was — settling into a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage. Now things looked unstable again. He ultimately decided to enroll at Gregory-Portland High School, where he is set to start classes Monday morning.

His family came over and hugged him. His mother told him he played well. His uncle pointed out mistakes that were made by the team. Angelo was angry about losing. He was never OK with losing.

At least that felt normal.

Twitter: @davemontero

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