Not a single pass was thrown, yard gained, or point scored – yet Natomas High Nighthawks Coach Don DeRosa called it his football team’s biggest win of the season.
“Huge,” he said simply.
After practice last night, with the season’s final game looming tonight, DeRosa gathered his team together for an emotional surprise: To seniors ending their Nighthawk football careers, he presented letters written by their parents, expressing heartfelt, deeply personal feelings often left unsaid in the hustle-bustle of life.
Why family letters to a football team? Because DeRosa sees his Natomas High squad as a tight-knit unit, as teammates caring for each other – he doesn’t see his job strictly in terms of games won or lost. To DeRosa, victory is measured not only by creating better athletes but better students, friends, family members. Leaders of the future.
His goal, he said, is “to make these guys not only better football players, but better men.”
And it starts with knowing that someone has your back.
Many of the Nighthawk seniors cried upon reading their parents’ handwritten letters. They then gathered in a circle, and players chose to read their letters out loud, to each other, to their football family. Tears galore. Hugs. Appreciation. Love.
Some of the teenagers have had rocky family lives, marked by divorce, poverty, or dysfunction. To hear parents express love and appreciation clearly meant the world to many of them. Every Nighthawk interviewed last night vowed to treasure the letter for years to come.
To protect privacy, names are omitted, but here is some of what parents’ wrote:
· “I wanted to write this letter to you to tell you how proud I am of you, and as I sit here writing it, all I can do is cry because I am at a loss for words to express to you just how proud I am.”
· “I love you and I couldn’t be any more proud. Stay focused, finish out this high school year, go to college and become a better (person) than what I am.”
· “Make good choices, keep your head raised up high and always remember that you are better than you realize, smarter than you know.”
· “It has taken me until the past few years to realize I can do anything I put my mind to, and I know you can do the same, just don’t take as long as I did to realize your potential. I could not ask for a better son.”
One letter waxed nostalgic about how nervous and scared the parents were when their son began playing football as a young child, a Nighthawk Mighty Mite. “I didn’t want anyone to tackle you, to hurt you. Once your first game started and I saw you out there on the field, that fear changed to excitement and I fell in love with watching you play. I’m so proud of you.”
One player said, “We really don’t speak about it at home, but it really touched me how (my mom) said she’s proud of who I’ve become the past couple years in high school, and what I’m doing with athletics, and how I’ve grown up and am succeeding.”
Another teen described a childhood in which he remembers waking up to his parents’ arguing. The couple finally ended up in divorce. He signed up for football, he said, to “get rid of my anger.” Tears filled his eyes as he talked about how deeply his father’s letter affected him. “Just knowing they still care,” he said, “through all the bad times.”
One Nighthawk said his mother was single as he grew up, and at one time, she struggled so much financially that she was homeless. He had to live with his grandmother for a while. He’s reunited with his mother now, and her letter touched him deeply.
“She said she liked how I grew as a person, and how I didn’t go off to the streets and go do other stuff,” he said. “That I’m respectful and a good young man.”
The Nighthawks, 4-5 on the season but winners of three of their past four games, host Johnson High School at 7 p.m. tonight. No matter what the final scoreboard reads, however, they clearly won’t leave the field as losers.