UVALDE, Texas – Weeks after the tragedy in Uvalde, head football coach Wade Miller and the football team searched for ways to honor the victims at Robb Elementary.
But the first step was simply coming together as a group and being able to spend time with one another in the wake of the shooting.
“The first day we were able to come back to campus, we all just kind of sat down and us, as coaches, told them if they needed anything, we were here for them,” Miller said. “We weren’t going to bring it up, but If they wanted, they could talk about it privately in a group.”
The coaching staff hoped the players would attend early summer workouts, but if they couldn’t due to personal and family reasons, Miller understood the circumstances. But the summer proved to be a bonding experience for the team.
“They all showed up. It’s just, I don’t know, refreshing to see them here in this environment,” Miller said.
“It bought us much closer than what I’ve been on varsity my last two years,” said senior defensive back Frank Salazar. “We’re really close compared to other teams.”
It was during summer workouts that Miller, his staff and his senior leaders started to discuss ways to carry the memories of the victims on the field this season. Miller was asked about retiring No. 21, but wanted to get input from his players.
“I said, ‘What do you all want to do?’ And they were kind of like, ‘Well, if you retire something, you forget about it,” Miller said. “We want people to remember and not to forget. I said maybe we give it to a senior every year and they were all in after that.”
Linebacker Justyn Rendon will be the first in a long line of Uvalde seniors who will wear No. 21 for the Coyotes. Rendon’s coaches and senior teammates voted for him to wear the jersey this season.
“It was a big shock, but I was also really blessed that I’m able to represent my community and the lives that were lost at Robb Elementary,” Rendon said.
The honor embodies the values of the team and the tight-knit community. Miller and other senior captains said there is no one better than Rendon to represent the program and Uvalde.
“He just represents the city of Uvalde. He’s hardworking, loves his community and wants to do things the right way. That’s Justyn to a ‘T’ right there,” Miller said.
“We voted for him because Justyn’s always here,” Salazar said. “He’s encouraged me to go out there and be vocal at the same time. I look up to him also.”
Rendon and the Coyotes will hit the field with heavy hearts this season, but understand football is something that can help bring the community together on Friday nights.
“It’ll mean a lot especially that first game for everybody,” said senior linebacker and quarterback Chris Rodriguez. “The community got messed up with everything that happened and hopefully this brings everybody back together. It feels good to be back with all my friends on the field.”
“We want to be kind of a shining light. There’s a lot of pressure to put on young kids, but we want to perform as best as we can on the field, in the community and in the classroom,” Miller said.
And for Rendon, an opportunity during his senior season to carry on the memories of those lives lost too soon.
“We’re a real small community, but we’re all coming together on Friday nights,” Rendon said. “It’ll be really emotional to put that jersey on and be able to run out on the field with it.”