It was a long 16 months between high school football games in Long Beach, and the return to the gridiron was an emotional one at Cabrillo High where Long Beach Poly hosted Serra on March 13.
The game itself was incredible and just another close contest in this local rivalry. The Jackrabbits won it in overtime 27-21 thanks to a defensive stand and a five-yard touchdown by sophomore Devin Samples, capping a night where he had 26 carries for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Barbee and Samples both rightly credited Poly’s line of Wendell Moe, Brandon Pati, Justin Mataia, Tyson Ruffins, Michael Fesili, and Nathan Samoa for paving the way.
However, the reason this game is No. 10 in our list of top moments of 2021 is because the kids were able to play again after the COVID-19 shutdowns and no one took it for granted. This was one of the first athletic events the Long Beach Unified School District hosted in 2021.
“These kids inspire me,” he said. “They put in work every day, they didn’t take days off, even when stuff is happening at their house that would honestly put most people to their knees. They’re showing up at practice that same day saying, ‘Coach, I need to work, I need to be here with my brothers.’”
“I feel great man, it’s a blessing to be able to be out here,” said Poly linebacker Bryun Parham. “This is exactly what I came out for. To battle, to fight with my brothers.”
As if the night wasn’t emotional enough, several of the Jackrabbits had lost family members during the pandemic. There was even a funeral for one of the players’ fathers on the day of the game. The team was also still dealing with the loss of beloved assistant coach Keith “Slice” Thompson, and wore decals in his honor.
Poly stormed the field in celebration after the overtime win, and it was clear the Jackrabbits had been waiting a long time to enjoy a victory together.
“Nobody outside of Long Beach gave us a shot tonight,” said Barbee. “We know what type of team we have. This is a special group.”