Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Molina's difficult return to field vs. South Oak Cliff is full of compassion
His players bombarded him with questions all week. How did it happen? Why did it happen? And could it happen to me?
South Oak Cliff coach Kendall Miller tried to provide the best answers he could as he wrestled with his own dilemma: How would he persuade his team to give maximum effort when its vulnerable opponent, Molina, was dealing with the aftershock from a tragic incident that left quarterback Diondre Preston paralyzed below the shoulders?
"There's no magic way to tell them how to handle it," Miller said before South Oak Cliff (5-1, 2-1) defeated Molina, 48-11, on Friday.
Instead, Miller's players did what they're accustomed to doing. They played. They did so - on the same field, inside Sprague Athletic Complex - where Preston, 17, suffered a severe spinal-cord injury, collapsed at the 11-yard line and remained motionless in a 45-38 loss to Pinkston on Sept. 30.
It was at that exact location that Molina's players and coaches knelt down to pray before Friday's game while their leader remained in the intensive care unit at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.
"When the whole world is crashing around them," Molina coach Charles DeVille said, "you get them on the field, that's their environment. That's where they want to be."
Still, they couldn't quite escape the painful memories of that night and, in reality, they didn't try. After eight days of coping with the emotional fallout - from meeting with grief counselors to applying stickers with Preston's initials to their helmets - they weren't quite ready to leave the past behind.
A few hours before the game, a bank account for donations was established at Texas Capital Bank in Preston's name. Then, shortly before kickoff, Preston's mother, Maya, appeared at the coin toss, wearing a T-shirt with an image of her son hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates. Molina's players, in particular quarterbacks Miguel Ortega and Roy Contreras, were forced to carry on without him despite, as DeVille said, being "mentally drained."
"But he's here. He's here with us," senior lineman Benito Vidaure said. "He's here in our hearts."
As Miller looked over at Molina's players, he grimaced. Earlier in the week, he cried when he thought about Preston's injury.
"I teared up," he said. "And this kid wasn't even on my team. This will stay with me forever. No doubt about it."
When it was over, after South Oak Cliff quarterback Semaj Riley amassed 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns, after Molina (4-2, 1-2) tried its best to compete, both teams embraced. A difficult night for everyone involved ended the way Miller had hoped: with a display of compassion.
"We made it through this," DeVille said. "We made it through and everybody's safe."