With the start of the football season comes excitement, rabid fans, school chants, and hits that sound just a little sweeter knowing it’s landing on an opponent.
But the 2015 season opened with a different sound at Marcos de Niza High School Friday Night.
Before their game Friday, Marcos de Niza recognized Mountain Pointe’s Ralph Roman Jr., who is a father of five and passed away on August 16th. Roman’s son, Ralph Roman III, a wide receiver for the Pride, led the team out of the tunnel Friday night, just five days after his father passed.
“It’s been a long week with all of this nonsense, but my teammates helped me get through this whole thing,” Roman said. “I know my dad was with me the whole time. I prayed to him in the locker room. He’s been with me ever since he left so he never really left.”
The crowd was filled with signs plastered with the saying “Roman Strong”, pictures of Ralph Jr. were on display, and the fans were color coordinated, looking far from the usual maroon and gold, but wearing blue, an homage to the New York Giants, Ralph Jr.’s favorite team.
The Pride showed their true colors early in the season, both literally and figuratively. Roman said the support from his team and the community fueled his return.
“It just showed that they cared; that’s what a team does. It’s so early in the season that you don’t know if you’re going to be close or not. That’s really brought us together and made us stronger as a team.”
Roman’s resilience was a source of inspiration and motivation for the rest of Mountain Pointe to support their teammate. Quarterback Jack Smith, who is one of many new starters for the Pride, looked to Roman as a source of consistency on the field.
“Ralph is one of the bravest kids I know,” Smith said. “He came to school the day after all that happened. It’s him being behind my back and telling me what to do is something that I’ll respect for a long time.”
Roman didn’t take a day off after his father passed away. He said the field was an escape for him and he had to deliver for his team. He caught some crucial passes to convert third downs and was a factor in the run game, which helped running back Macarius Blount rush for over 200 yards and two touchdowns.
“I practiced all week,” Roman said. “I didn’t take any days off. I couldn’t let my team down. They needed me. They needed me this game to make blocks. I made blocks and made (Blount) run all over the place.”
There is a GoFundMe account to help support the Roman family. You can donate here.