On Oct. 6, 2006, Fermín Vialpando III, a defensive end and offensive lineman, was an honorary captain for the Panthers during their homecoming game against Ridgeview Academy.
He was 17 years old, and celebrating his final Homecoming game in a Panther uniform.
Four minutes into the third quarter, Vialpando was running down the field to call a huddle following a play in which Harrison had a big gain. He collapsed on the field and died minutes later.
Friday night, Vialpando's teammates from the 2006 squad gathered on the field before the school’s game against rival Sierra to honor their fallen brother, who died exactly 11 years ago. Wearing sweatshirts memorializing Vialpando and his number 63 jersey, they presented his mother, Sundae with a plaque.
Sundae was moved by the team’s bond after so many years.
“It’s just really touching my heart that these kids still have so much love for my son. It’s amazing that they still have such a bond, ” she said.
That bond comes from years of playing football and attending the same elementary and middle schools, says Racaun Coleman, who played defensive end for the Panthers in 2006 and was named an honorary captain, Friday.
“When we played on the field it was a brotherhood. Never leave a man down, never leave a man behind,” Coleman said.
Coleman praised Vialpando’s work ethic on the field, saying that he was passionate about the game.
“He was definitely a hard worker, and he was someone who always put in the most effort, every play, every down even in practice,” Coleman said.
The ceremony touched those on the opposite sideline as well. Sierra head coach Shane Rowland was Harrison’s line coach at the time.
“I always said if I was a head coach I would retire that jersey. No. 63 means something to me and it’s a part of who I am," Rowland said. "I’m very honored to be a part of this ceremony. It was a tragic thing that happened 11 years ago and as a coach and as a player, you never get over a thing like that. It’s something that will live with me and always be a part of me as a coach. Every year on this date it’s very emotional, but it’s great to see guys 11 years later that it still effects and it’s still a part of their lives too."
Harrison and Sierra have retired the number 63 in honor of Vialpando and both teams presented versions of Vialpando’s jersey at the game.
Widefield head coach Nic Olney coached Vialpando in his junior season and was in attendance Friday night. Olney also displayed a No. 63 jersey at Widefield's Saturday afternoon game against Mesa Ridge.
The words read during the ceremony encompass the team’s love for their brother even to this day.
“Fermín (was known) as the gentle giant because of the person he was. He was passionate about football, family, school, and cooking. He not only motivated us but also led and guided us to be just as passionate as he was.”