Summit High School football seniors ready for ‘end of an era’
DILLON — This wild ride is almost over for the Summit High School varsity football team (1-3) and seniors like captains Kobe Cortright and Cam Kalaf.
The wide receiver and defensive back Cortright has been playing football since he could barely run. The last week — when health rules and regulations have become more severe and uncertainty lingered about whether Summit would play this weekend — has been one of the most anxious weeks in his football journey.
With Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup out east on the plains at Bennett (4-2) assuredly the final game of a short, five-game season — one ravaged by novel coronavirus cancellations and changes — it feels “like the end of an era” to Cortright.
Still, he is thankful it’s not quite over yet.
“I never really want to say goodbye to football, but I think eventually everyone has to,” Cortright said. “But I’m just not there yet. We still got one more game.”
All week, Tigers senior captain quarterback Cam Kalaf said there was an unspoken understanding among the team, especially seniors like him, that last Saturday’s 20-6 loss at Thompson Valley may end up being the final game they ever played. The scene certainly felt that way at Ray Patterson Field in Loveland, as parents walked by players, physically distanced and masked from beyond the stadium fencing. It was the final game this season that spectators and family members were able to attend.
“It felt like the last game,” Cortright said. “We didn’t want to leave the field.”
The reality that parents won’t be able to attend the game at Bennett due to health regulations is yet another missing piece of the traditional senior year experience.
After updated local Summit County regulations prevented the Tigers from playing another home game, Summit’s 10 seniors won’t be able to have a homecoming or senior night game. On traditional senior nights, the Tigers join with their parents and loved ones at midfield and read a message to their teammates and the community at halftime.
This year, at Friday night’s final practice, Tigers head coach James Wagner had Summit seniors individually speak to their teammates about the personal significance and meaning of being able to play a last game as a Summit Tiger.
“It’s like being a parent watching these kids grow up, and you’ve got to let them go,” Wagner said. “But it’s great to hear that return of investment about how much they love the game.”
On Friday Kalaf spoke candidly, saying it’s frustrating that people aren’t able to see him and his fellow seniors’ last game. It’s also frustrating not having a traditional senior night. He said ever since he was a freshman and saw all the seniors go up and do their senior night speech he thought, “one day, one day that’s going to come.” But it never really did for the 2020 senior class.
That said, following Wagner’s seasonlong “winner’s adjust” mantra, seniors like Kalaf and Cortright want this final game to be a statement to who they were and what they were about.
Cortright said with a team full of talented sophomores, seniors may get more opportunities on Saturday than normal, such as Kalaf playing on the defensive side of the ball. Kalaf did so last week in the second half when he and others fully realized it might have been the final football game they ever played.
Against Bennett’s simple-yet-strong wing-style offense and stout defense, fans should expect to see a few fun little plays — some last hurrah moments for the Tigers. After all these kids have been through, why not leave it all out there?
“It may sound like the most cliche thing, ’what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ but the adversity we had to get through — not just in sports, in school, society — we are all learning from this,” Kalaf said. “And we are going to come out with a different perspective, new ideas. Have a better outlook on how our lives are going, because we’ve already lived in the rough of it, when COVID passes.
“We are never going to forget this, what our senior year went like,” Kalaf continued. “We’ll look back and laugh when it’s all over.”
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