Local high school teammates bonded by more than football

3 years 1 month 2 weeks ago Thursday, October 23 2014 Oct 23, 2014 Thursday, October 23, 2014 1:35:00 PM UTC October 23, 2014 in Friday Night Fever
By: Eric Kelly, KOMU 8 Sports Reporter
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MEXICO - Many teams base their success on the number of wins and losses at the end of the season.

The Missouri Military Academy Colonels are not one of those teams.

On paper, this small college preparatory school in Mexico, MO is failing on the football field. Over a stretch of about two-and-a-half years, the team didn't win a single football game, 26 games in a row to be exact, before winning two games this season.

But for these high schoolers, many other factors come into play, as there may be more unique stories on this team than any other in Mid-Missouri.

For starters, 14 of the 39 players are international students, and many are playing football for the first time in their lives. Some of them also spoke broken English when they first came to the school, meaning they had to learn two new languages; the language of English and the language of football.

"First of all, my English was really bad. I didn't understand anything. I didn't understand any play, I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't know what was offense and what was defense," said senior center Juan Flores.

Senior defensive lineman Remington Zhang ran into the same struggles when he came to the school last season.

"I basically knew nothing about the sport. When coaches were talking about something, I had a hard time understanding."

After a less-than-stellar first season, something clicked within Zhang. The coaches said he is now one of the hardest workers on the team, and as a result, one of the most improved players.

"That kid got into the weight room and absolutely beasted it. He went from never have lifting too many weights to absolutely killing it in the weight room," MMA head football coach John Noel said. "Then he went to two summer camps this summer. He's been doing regional combines and things like that. Really worked himself into a more than serviceable football player. He could play at the small college level, D3, small NAIA things like that just out of sheer will power."

Beyond just international students, the team is an extremely diverse cast of characters that seems to be out of a movie. Some have gone through obstacles many of us will never face.

For sophomore free safety Sean Fitzgerald, football offers a family aspect that he has struggled to find off the field. When he was five, his father left and when he was six, his mother passed away. Despite these tragic incidents, the kid many call "Fitzy" does not use this as an excuse.

"I actually look to it as I try harder to show that just because my parents, mother and father aren't here, that I can still work just as hard, no problem."

Fitzgerald now lives with his aunt, who made the decision for him to go to MMA.

"In the beginning it was really frustrating. I was mad that it was her and not my mom, but eventually I got over it, and she's great. She does everything for me," he said.

Another player, Steven Prinster had one leg that was shorter than the other, causing a noticeable limp that made day-to-day activities increasingly difficult. Eventually doctors were forced to break one of his legs just to make them the same length.

Prinster fought through about a year-long road to recovery, but now he is the team's starting quarterback. He said one of the hardest parts about coming back from the injury was getting back in shape.

"I was sore when I first started coming back from all the running and stuff and al lot of it was realizing I had to get back in shape."

Meanwhile, two of the most talented players on the team haven't even been at the school for more than a year.

Senior Isaiah Adkins is one of the most experienced football players on the roster, despite this being his first season playing at MMA. As part of a military family, he has traveled and played in multiple different areas, including Germany.

"The dudes are definitely a lot bigger there. They don't care if they get injured, they just play through it, every play. I've seen a dude play with a dislocated finger. He was a 6'5" guard, 300 and some odd pounds and he was having fun," he said.

Another senior, wide receiver Kylel Gillam is already an accomplished athlete, as a state tennis finalist in Missouri last season. He is playing his first ever season of competitive football after some initial reservations.

"At first I was reluctant to join, because of the team. I was just kind of like, I don't know if I want to go out there and waste all that time, not seeing any results. Finally I just didn't want to go through high school and look back and be mad that I didn't try it," he said.

Despite all of the losses and struggles of playing at the school, players said that living together has created an unbreakable bond.

"It really is a brotherhood, you live here together, we see each other every day," Gillam said.

"It's all about brotherhood," Zhang saidMEXICO - Many teams base their success on the number of wins and losses at the end of the season.

The Missouri Military Academy Colonels are not one of those teams.

On paper, this small college preparatory school in Mexico, MO is failing on the football field. Over a stretch of about two-and-a-half years, the team didn't win a single football game, 26 games in a row to be exact, before winning two games this season.

But for this team, many other factors come into play, as there may be more unique stories on this team than any other in Mid-Missouri.

For starters, 14 of the 39 players are international students, and many are playing football for the first time in their lives. Some of them also spoke broken English when they first came to the school, meaning they had to learn two new languages; the language of English and the language of football.

"First of all, my English was really bad. I didn't understand anything. I didn't understand any play, I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't know what was offense and what was defense," said senior center Juan Flores.

Senior defensive lineman Remington Zhang ran into the same struggles when he came to the school last season.

"I basically knew nothing about the sport. When coaches were talking about something, I had a hard time understanding."

After a less-than-stellar first season, something clicked within Zhang. The coaches said he is now one of the hardest workers on the team, and as a result, one of the most improved players.

"That kid got into the weight room and absolutely beasted it. He went from never have lifting too many weights to absolutely killing it in the weight room," MMA head football coach John Noel said. "Then he went to two summer camps this summer. He's been doing regional combines and things like that. Really worked himself into a more than serviceable football player. He could play at the small college level, D3, small NAIA things like that just out of sheer will power."

Beyond just international students, the team is an extremely diverse cast of characters that seems to be out of a movie. Some have gone through obstacles many of us will never face.

For sophomore free safety Sean Fitzgerald, football offers a family aspect that he has struggled to find off the field. When he was five, his father left and when he was six, his mother passed away. Despite these tragic incidents, the kid many call "Fitzy" does not use this as an excuse.

"I actually look to it as I try harder to show that just because my parents, mother and father aren't here, that I can still work just as hard, no problem."

Fitzgerald now lives with his aunt, who made the decision for him to go to MMA.

"In the beginning it was really frustrating. I was mad that it was her and not my mom, but eventually I got over it, and she's great. She does everything for me," he said.

Another player, Steven Prinster had one leg that was shorter than the other, causing a noticeable limp that made day-to-day activities increasingly difficult. Eventually doctors were forced to break one of his legs just to make them the same length.

Prinster fought through a long road to recovery, but now he is the team's starting quarterback. He said one of the hardest parts about coming back from the injury was getting back in shape.

"I was sore when I first started coming back from all the running and stuff and a lot of it was realizing I had to get back in shape."

Meanwhile, two of the most talented players on the team haven't even been at the school for more than a year.

Senior Isaiah Adkins has brought experience to the roster in his first season playing at MMA. As part of a military family, he has traveled and played in different areas, including Germany.

"The dudes are definitely a lot bigger there. They don't care if they get injured, they just play through it, every play. I've seen a dude play with a dislocated finger. He was a 6'5" guard, 300 and some odd pounds and he was having fun," he said.

Another senior, wide receiver Kylel Gillam is already an accomplished athlete, as a state tennis finalist in Missouri last season. He is playing his first ever season of competitive football after some initial reservations.

"At first I was reluctant to join, because of the team. I was just kind of like, I don't know if I want to go out there and waste all that time, not seeing any results. Finally I just didn't want to go through high school and look back and be mad that I didn't try it," he said.

Despite all of the losses and struggles of playing at the school, players said that living together has created an unbreakable bond.

"It really is a brotherhood, you live here together, we see each other every day," Gillam said.

"It's all about brotherhood," Zhang said.

"Right when you get to MMA, you're automatically one of my brothers," Fitzgerald said.

"It's that we're not just friends, we're not high school students that get together and practice, no we are family," Flores said.

For this team bonded by brotherhood, the next test will come on Friday night against the Macon Tigers.

 

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