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Prep football: Team means more for kids of military families at Fountain-Fort Carson

September 11, 2013 Updated: September 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm
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Fountain-Fort Carson Arvada West during the first round of 5A football playoffs at Fountain High School in Fountain on Friday, Nov. 5, 2010. Gazette, Bryan Oller

Fountain-Fort Carson's football team hit the practice field Wednesday as it would on any other day. Except this wasn't a typical Wednesday.

At this school with a heavy military presence, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought war to a personal level. Several members of the football team have a parent serving overseas, answering the nation's call following an unprecedented time in American history.

In uneasy times, the Trojans find a common bond in football.

"Football makes outside distractions go away," Trojans senior linebacker Drue Harris said. "They're like another family on the field. With my dad being gone, when I'm out there with all of them, I feel a lot better. It takes my mind away from everything else going on."

Harris and the Trojans have hit uneasy times on the field, too. Off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2004, F-FC gets a new start with the beginning of Pioneer League play against Rock Canyon at 7 p.m. Saturday in Highlands Ranch.

Fountain-Fort Carson led both Pine Creek and Columbine in the second half. On both occasions, the Trojans were unable to stay in front, getting outscored 36-6 after intermission.

"Losing two games like that, where we physically outplayed both teams, makes this week a must-win," said senior defensive back Kevin McLaughlin, whose dad, a chief of staff, is stationed in San Antonio while the rest of the family stays behind. "We need to play Trojan football for four quarters."

McLaughlin carries the American flag while leading his team onto the field before every game. For some, displaying patriotism just seems like the right thing to do.

To the Trojans, it's a way of life.

"Now that we're older, we're starting to understand the reason behind why our parents got deployed," senior linebacker Jake Harmon said. "The kids think about it, and we have pride in our team for having the amount of military kids that we do."

Longtime Trojans coach Mitch Johnson counted 65 of the program's 115 players who have ties to the military in one way or another.

From year to year, kids move on or move in, creating a situation that's far from stable. Yet, these Trojans seem to embrace the challenge of continuously moving parts.

Take running back and linebacker DJ Leatimua, who spent the last five years in Hawaii before his family was sent to Fort Carson just in time for his senior year. His dad is preparing for his deployment overseas.

"Being a military kid, you have to forget quick and adapt quick," said Leatimua, who has rushed for two of the Trojans' four touchdowns this season. "These guys welcomed me with open arms, and we're all connected by football. When Kevin runs out there with the flag, I think back on this day, why people deploy. It motivates me to come to practice and put it all out there."

Johnson notices a unique brand of camaraderie within his program, which he has overseen for more than three decades.

"The special part of the school is that it creates a solid foundation underneath their feet because it often takes away the uncertainties, especially with a parent gone," Johnson said. "Being a part of something becomes a constant in their lives and helps them pass the time."

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