Justin Shaw's final season has been a test of his will and commitment to football. During practice the week of the Largo High season opener, Shaw, 17, was going for a tackle when his right arm became wedged between two players. It snapped backward. He had a dislocated his right elbow. "Is my arm broke?" Shaw recalls immediately asking. "How long am I going to be out?" Since playing little league football with the Largo Packers, Shaw has never been injured. "Out of all seasons, my senior year," said Shaw, one of 13 seniors honored at the team's final regular-season home game Friday night. "It was my first time having to miss a game because of injury." Shaw missed the first three games. He went to therapy. He worked out with the trainer. He stayed humble. He prayed. The fourth game of the season, Shaw wore a heavily padded protective cast on his right arm. He could barely bend his elbow but he played anyway.
The next week, Shaw received a protective brace. It also is padded but he has more flexibility in his arm. The linebacker now plays nearly every defensive down.
Though frightening, the injury instilled another beyond-the-gridiron lesson in Shaw.
"Things can happen to anybody because I would have never thought I would get hurt," Shaw said. "But it taught me to work hard. If I want something done, I gotta work hard for it."
• • •
There was 2 minutes and 45 seconds left in the second quarter of Largo's game against Gibbs High on Friday night when a hush fell over the crowd.
All but one Packer made it to the sideline and took a knee. The team's starting quarterback, Ryan Eppes, lay on the ground surrounded by the trainer and doctor. Eppes managed to stand and struggled onto a waiting golf cart.
The senior quarterback had fractured a rib. He would not be able to complete his last regular-season home game.
Before the next series, senior running back Marcel Durham called the team into a huddle and led the chant: "We stand tall. We can't fall. Desire. I love this!"
On the next offensive series, freshman quarterback Jamar Riley handed off twice to Durham, who ran for 12 and 4 yard gains. Riley then stepped back and connected with senior Mike Lang for a 30-yard, over-the-shoulder grab and touchdown.
The two seniors had helped bring calm back to the team.
"That's what I'm talking about," head coach Rick Rodriguez told Durham and Lang at halftime. "You boys stepped up."
The Packers would go on to win. At the end, with their helmets in the air, the players reveled in capturing another district championship. But not far from their minds was the senior who went down.
"On the count of three," a player yelled. "One. Two. Three."
"Eppes," the team shouted.
• • •
Marcus Paschal has stood where Largo's 13 seniors stood Friday night.
As he watched from the sideline, he remembered his senior season as a Packer in 2001. Paschal, 24, went to the University of Iowa, where he was a three-year starting safety. In December 2006, he earned a health and sports study degree.
In April 2007, Paschal signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played last year but was released this season and is back in Largo training. He's confident another team will be interested.
Paschal, who grew up in the Ridgecrest community, said he tries to leave something with the players that works on the field and beyond the gridiron.
"Don't ever take anything for granted," he said. "On and off the field, don't take anything for granted."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached [email protected] or at 445-4174.