A football team is often measured by how it responds when faced with adversity, when the stakes are at their highest in the fourth quarter and the game is on the line. When the pressure is on, will the team fold or will it bond together and push through no matter how great the challenge? But sometimes, those questions transcend the game of football and become something more.
Templeton High's football team lost to Cabrillo on a last-minute touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but the challenges the team faced this week were far greater than trying to defend a fade route. The kind of challenges that no football team should ever have to endure; preparing to play following the serous injury of Templeton football player Isaac Lindsey during last Friday's game against San Luis Obispo.
Lindsey remains in the intensive care unit at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, where he is being treated for a traumatic brain injury.
Over the past seven days, the team, the city of Templeton and the entire Central Coast united with the common goal of supporting Isaac and the Lindsey family. Nearly every inch of Templeton’s campus was covered with his number 32 on Friday night, and almost every fan showed some small sign of support, either with a “Team Isaac” T-shirt or by signing a large banner attached to a truck outside the entrance to the stadium.
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Over at San Luis Obispo High, students made a giant "Team Isaac" sign and put it on display at its game against Morro Bay.
The goal was to handle Friday night’s game against Cabrillo like any other regular season game, but as much as everyone within the team tried to keep the normal pregame routine, they knew it was impossible.
“It wasn’t the same,” said running back Nate Avery. “It felt like there was a piece of us missing.”
Last week, before his injury, Isaac led the Eagles on the field carrying the team flag. Before the game against Cabrillo, Isaac’s brother and teammate Louis led the team out of the endzone, carrying a new white flag with his brother’s green number “32”. Avery, Isaac’s best friend, ran alongside Louis with the team flag.
“That was the happiest moment I’ve had in a long time,” Avery said after the game. “Louis and I ... that meant the world to both of us. We are just sad we weren’t able to pull through.”
The emotional stress of the week, along with a relentless Cabrillo running game, proved too much for Templeton to handle on the field.
“We just let our emotions get the best of us,” coach Dan Loney said. “We tried not to get to low and I think we had those giant swings tonight.”
The Eagles started off strong, riding the wave of emotion to a Jordan Bernal touchdown run in the first two minutes of the game. After heading to the locker room with the score tied at 21-21, Templeton emerged looking tired, physically and mentally. The Eagles had costly penalties, and the offense managed just 17 yards total after the break on the way to a 31-28 loss.
Following the defeat, the pent-up emotion poured from the Templeton players as they huddled on the field with their heads hanging low. The number 32 on the back of each helmet and two tractors restored by Isaac (his favorite hobby, according to friends) were constant reminders of their absent teammate.
The community pulled together and showed Isaac and the Lindsey family that they are not in it alone, Avery said.
“That’s one thing that we get out of tonight,” said Avery, who sat out Friday's game with a broken bone in his shoulder. “I wouldn’t want to be any other place in the world right now.
Avery said Isaac’s family was at the game, but kept a low profile. There were no grand announcements over the PA system or half time ceremonies, just a healthy dose of support in the form of a number. Isaac’s mother Jenny said earlier in the week via a Facebook post that she also wanted to keep things as normal as possible and support her son. The hundreds in attendance gave an extra loud cheer each time the game announcer credited Louis with a tackle.
“We went through all the stages of finding out what was our identity,” Loney said. “We were just a little lost this week. It was just hard to get things back to normal.”
Loney doesn’t think the Team Isaac supporters are going anywhere soon, no matter what challenges lie ahead.
“Knowing this community, it’s not going to die down,” Loney said. “In my opinion it’s only going to get stronger. You’re going to see more people out, you’re going to see more people supporting the team.”
“Templeton,” Avery said looking down at his jersey holding back tears. “I’m proud to wear this on my chest.”