Sports News – Hometown News Now
(UVALDE, Texas) — After a summer plagued with grief, anxiety, and anger, Uvalde escapes, celebrating the first home football game of the high school season.
Residents will descend on Honey Bowl Stadium on Friday night to watch the Uvalde High School Coyotes take on the CC Winn High School Mavericks. Uvalde Stadium is just 2.4 miles from Robb Elementary School, where 19 elementary students and two teachers were killed on May 24.
Uvalde senior linebacker Justyn Rendon has been selected by his coaches and peers for the honor of wearing the No. 21 jersey this season, commemorating the 21 victims killed.
“I automatically started crying,” her mother, Venessa Rendon, said when she heard the news. “I was proud. It was a very humbling moment.”
Justyn Rendon said almost everyone in town was affected by the massacre, including his own family. Her younger brother was at Robb that day and survived.
“I was devastated, I couldn’t get here fast enough. All the ‘what ifs’ started playing in my head,” said his father, San Antonio police officer Eluterio Rendon.
Now football is “like therapy,” Justyn Rendon told ABC News.
In training, “not everyone had to feel the sadness and grief. They just got to feel the comfort of the family we have,” the 18-year-old said.
As the team gathered for a pregame dinner Thursday night, they were greeted by surprise visitors: Houston Texans coach Lovie Smith and Texans linebackers Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to be helpful, to be an inspiration, or just to be someone who can get, you know, things from the minds of these young men. You can talk about ball with or talk about life with, you just want to be there,” Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey told ABC News. “I think we have a job to not only play football but also be role models and be a helping hand.”
“I think it’s great,” Uvalde coach Wade Miller said of the NFL visit. “It makes us feel the love that we get from around the world and especially from the state of Texas. And to have these guys here and following us, our kids feel really special.”
The surprises follow one another hello america Friday. The Texans are gifting Uvalde with new uniforms and gear for the season and will honor the team with “Uvalde strong” stickers on their helmets in their home opener on Sept. 11.
“We will always be in your corner, we will always support you,” Kirksey said.
The Texans are also hosting a football clinic for the Uvalde community on Friday.
“Guys just like to give back,” Texans owner Cal McNair told ABC News. “All of these guys have really embraced that as what they do and what they believe in.”
The special NFL visit was made possible by Texans athletic trainer Roland Ramirez, a native of Uvalde.
“It’s been difficult. Some very close friends have lost loved ones…so that touches me,” he said.
Ramirez said he’s glad the Texans can provide support and encouragement to the high schoolers — and he’s especially thrilled to see his alma mater take the field Friday night.
Uvalde football finished last season 2-8. But already this year is making a new start.
The season started last Friday with an away game. Uvalde beat the Carrizo Springs Wildcats, scoring a total of 21 points – a poignant and powerful reminder of the 21 lives lost.
“It was just a sign of the 21 angels looking at this community and saying they’re here, they’re still here and they’ll always be there. So it was a pretty, pretty special moment.” said Eluterio Rendon.
Defensive end Jonathan Elizondo, 17, said the tragedy brought the team together and they are mentally stronger now.
Elizondo was moved to Uvalde following the shooting to support his family. He has cousins who dated Robb.
“I just don’t want them to see this as a tragic city, you know? I want there to be positivity again,” he said.
Football “brings everyone together” in Uvalde, and Justyn Rendon said he was delighted to “bring the joy back to this town” in Friday’s home opener.
“It’s going to mean a lot more this season. … It’s going to be very emotional, very exciting,” he said. “And I hope those little kids can come out and watch us win. And that they don’t have to be scared or sad, but feel the joy of being with their friends, their families.”
“This team means a lot to me,” added 16-year-old quarterback Brodie Carnes.
Carnes said Friday night’s game “is going to be packed. Our community is a bit depressed…we’re going to go out there and play for them.”
“It took us a long time to be able to smile again without feeling guilty,” said Eluterio Rendon. “I think football will hopefully bring the community out… find a reason to smile, enjoying watching our kids doing what they love to do.”
ABC News’ Olivia Osteen, Jenny Wagnon Courts, Katie Conway and Kat Caulderwood contributed to this report.
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