DADE CITY — In the heat of a near cloudless morning, Pasco High School's 275 seniors tried not to melt as they practiced their graduation ceremony one last time.
The last name called, members of the Class of 2010 pretended to turn their rings and shift their tassels before marching across the football field to form a giant '10 for the school's traditional photo. Green Day's Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) blared over the speakers.
Then they headed to the shade beneath the stands for one last school lunch together.
At the football-crazy school, the venue was perfect for the many teens who counted games and pep rallies among their top memories of the past four years.
"Football ties everyone together," said Ann Krueger, 18, who heads to the University of Alabama in the fall to study psychology. "There's a lot of school spirit. I like the fact that everyone is a community. Everyone does everything together."
Jake Foster, 18, came to Pasco High as a senior from Hernando Christian Academy. His worries that he would be treated as an outsider quickly vanished.
"Everybody made me feel real welcome," Foster said.
Football helped smooth the transition for the versatile player, who will compete for Wisconsin Lutheran College while studying prelaw.
"I just wish I would have been here for four years," he said.
His buddy, Brennan Allen, the team's kicker, said the school offered the football connection but also so much more.
He, like so many others, praised Pasco High teachers and classmates for interacting as a family — one he'll miss as he heads to Charleston Southern University.
"I'm sad that it's over," Allen said. "I wouldn't have wanted to go anywhere else. This is a great school. Anybody that comes here, they know that."
Quanisha Redfield, 20, said teacher Mignon Edwards helped make school worth attending.
"We had a lot of fun together," Redfield said. "In class, she cracked a lot of jokes."
Getting through to graduation often looked out of reach for Redfield, a mother of two.
"When I started school, at first I wasn't really into it," said Redfield, who hopes to become an elementary teacher someday. "But I said I had to do something better for myself for them."
Corey Leverington, 18, praised the school's teaching staff, too, as helping to hold the family together.
"When I needed help, they were there for me, whether it was personal issues or not," he said.
Still, Leverington said he's "really excited" to move on to the next phase of life. He plans to become a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
His girlfriend, Teresita Valdez, said the togetherness of the senior class made the years memorable. She looked back fondly on the pep rallies, powder puff game, grad night and other activities she said defined senior year.
More than that, Valdez said, "it was just seniors — everyone together. Everyone made it. … It's pretty cool."
Valdez, 18, plans to study nursing at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Krueger expected the tears to flow as friends see each other at graduation for what could be the last time.
"It's going to be hard to leave," she said.
But it's time, added Celeste Nichols, 18, who remained undecided whether to go to college or get a job.
"I am ready to leave Pasco High School," said Nichols, one of the last to filter out of the senior barbecue.
"I'm ready just to move on with life, to go out and do new things."
Graduation is scheduled for 7:30 tonight in the school athletic stadium.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs. tampabay.com/schools.