Second String:

“I want to be remembered as the guy who gave his all whenever he was on the field.”

— Walter Payton

The greatest running back who ever lived

A Friday night in the desert can be a cold and somber place.

Answers are difficult to come across in all that endless space under all of that endless sky.

Words are hard to find, speeches are difficult to make and tomorrow is so very uncertain.

Many Friday nights ago, against an Antelope Valley High football team, I played one final high school football game. I was never much to write home about when it came to talent, but God how I loved to play that game.

In a sense, we were defeated by one player. His name was Tony Walker and he scored all four of the Lopes’ touchdowns. We kicked off to him just once, but it was one time too many and his speed was just too much for us every other time.

On a Friday night that just passed, against Palmdale High’s football team, many a St. Francis High Golden Knight played his final high school football game. Some will play in college and perhaps beyond. Most of them will not, however, but I’m sure they loved to play the game, just like many before them and many that will follow.

In a sense, they lost because of the exploits of one player. His name was Josh Shaw, a Florida University-bound standout who played quarterback, defensive back and returned kicks. He scored five total touchdowns and had more than 500 all-purpose yards. St. Francis kicked off to him just once, but it was one time too many and his speed was just too much for the Golden Knights every other time.

On this frigid Friday night in the desert, Palmdale beat St. Francis, 49-42, in a double-overtime classic. Albeit, a classic from a Palmdale point of view and a surreal letdown from the St. Francis sideline’s vantage point.

It was fourth down, with 10 yards to go and a season on the line, when St. Francis’ one-armed quarterback, Justin Posthuma, did what he’s done all season, as he put his body on the line, his heart on his sleeve and the game on his shoulders, scrambling forward and leaping for a first down and the hopes of a continued season. Instead, that’s when it all ended so suddenly. Posthuma went up with the chance to keep a season alive, but came down with the ball resting in the grasp of the opposition.

Shortly after, Posthuma’s teammates and St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds picked him up off the ground and like that, a successful season had concluded and a final Friday night had ended.

As his team gathered, Bonds searched for words, he searched for emotion it seemed, but he said nothing, taking his team to the locker room.

I don’t know exactly what was going through his head, obviously. I didn’t even interview him after the game, something he apologized to me for the day after in an act that just emphasized the class that the area’s finest football coach has always had, but an act that wasn’t warranted. His thoughts and words were no doubt hard to find that night and they belonged to his team.

It was a team that I believe meant a lot to him. They all do, but it’s hard to replace a quarterback with the skills to score 11 touchdowns in two postseason games while doing so with a busted arm. It will no doubt be hard to replace a Dietrich Riley, probably impossible, as he’s no doubt one of, if not the most talented player to ever play for St. Francis — and for the record, along with Hart High’s Matt Moore, who’s currently a Carolina Panther, one of the two greatest players I’ve ever covered. Chris Cabrera, all 195 pounds of him, was a tackling monster in the middle who was a coach’s dream. And Austin Nieves and Giorgio Chirikian and David Chirikian and Cooper Ulrich and on and on.

It was a special team and a special season. And it ended suddenly and stunningly.

Every player is a little different, just like every team and every game. Sadly, most seasons, for St. Francis and Crescenta Valley and just about every high school football team are all going to end the very same way, though.

If everybody were meant to have a happy ending, they wouldn’t keep score.

And certainly nothing such as this or any other kind and sympathetic words will substitute for just one more game under those lights. That’s how it should be.

If it didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t mean as much. If there wasn’t a chance of tears falling, they wouldn’t cheer so loud.

On another final Friday night, I was witness to a game for the ages. And though no poetic words will soothe the finality of it all, I have come to realize that games are lost on scoreboards, but when one competes with everything within oneself, when someone leaves everything on the field, though it may not be celebrated, it is reason enough for pride. It is reason enough to look back and be proud.

When it’s all over, it’s your friends and your memories, fellas. That’s what’s left and that’s what’s important.

Long may your memories and friends hold true, long may you look back and be proud of how you played and how you fought.

Another final Friday night has come to pass, and more will follow just as more preceded it.

This one, of course, was different because it was the last time you played under those brilliant lights — and wow, how they shine. But when you look back, look back and smile just a bit, because you played your hearts out and whether a scoreboard shows that matters not.

Every boy who straps on a helmet and puts on a pair of shoulder pads eventually plays that final game and for most, it is lost, and thus, it comes down to how you played — and you played with desire and passion and fortitude, you played like men. For those who can walk away knowing in their hearts they did just that, there is no reason not to hold your head high.

That’s just the way I see it, playing second string.


Get in touch GRANT GORDON is the sports editor. He can be reached at (818) 637-3225 or at grant.gordon@latimes.com.

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