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Victory Over Adversity

Featured Photo from Victory Over Adversity

Few football teams have endured more than the varsity squad from Seminole High School, which makes its historic State Championship that much more remarkable

Many great movies have been made about the drama and exhilaration surrounding high-school football, perhaps most notably Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans. But even a Hollywood screenwriter would be hard-pressed to come up with a script as poignant and inspirational as the story of the 2020 football season at Seminole High School.

Despite unbelievable setbacks and family tragedies, the Seminoles pulled off an extraordinary feat – becoming the first Central Florida team in history to post an undefeated (12-0) season en route to winning the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 8A State Championship. Class 8A is reserved for the state’s largest and most prestigious high schools, making this championship, effectively, the top football prize in all of Florida.

Seminole trounced Kissimmee’s Osceola High School, 38-10, on the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee on December 19 to claim the school’s second state football championship and cap a remarkable season.

“The thing I was most proud of was their perseverance and focus throughout the year,” says Eric Lodge, Seminole’s 31-year-old, first-year head coach, who was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2016-2019. “They let a lot of things roll off their shoulders that most kids their age wouldn’t be able to handle. It’s not normal to experience some of the losses they’ve had. But I’m really proud of these guys, the way they persevered through these hardships and kept plugging away. I think the whole Sanford community is like that.”

The season began in the middle of a global pandemic, resulting in the loss of valuable off-season practice time, a delay to the season’s start, and scheduling issues due to COVID-19. Seminole still managed to get off to a roaring start, traveling to Gainesville for its season opener, a 28-0 victory over Gainesville High.

Just two days later, tragedy struck. Senior running back Zi’Erric Wynn, an all-around athlete and one of the team’s top players, died after a car he was riding in hydroplaned and crashed into a utility pole. The Seminoles honored Zi’Erric at their first home game that following Friday, wearing decals with his number on their helmets and dedicating the season to him.

Seminole followed with convincing victories over Daytona Beach Mainland, Lake Minneola, Lake Brantley, Flagler Palm Coast, Spruce Creek, and University High in Orange City. The team continued its success in the playoffs with victories at DeLand and Jacksonville Sandalwood and at home against Bartram Trail. Then, in the state semifinals, Seminole faced perennial powerhouse Apopka High School. The Apopka Blue Darters had dashed Seminole’s hopes of a state title the previous season, giving the Seminoles their only loss in 2019 with a drubbing in the regional finals, 20-0.

This time, despite trailing 21-7 at one point and being down by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Seminole scored two touchdowns in the final period to win 28-24 and advance to the championship game.

“We felt Apopka was the best team we played all year,” Coach Lodge says, “and beating them – the team that beat us last year – obviously felt good. Once we got past Apopka, I think the players knew they could win the State Championship.”
But, before the Seminoles took to the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, tragedy would strike again. The morning of the championship game, senior safety Delvin Ingram got word that his mother had passed away. It’s also worth noting that Zi’Erric was Delvin’s best friend.

Coach Lodge says he would have understood if Delvin decided to sit out the championship game. Instead, Delvin decided to play the game as a way to honor his mother’s memory, and he was outstanding on defense, making several key tackles and forcing a fumble.

“I kind of put the ball in his court,” Coach Lodge says. “I told him there’s no wrong thing to do here, and I would support him no matter what. Sadly, dealing with tragedy like that is not something new for this team; the kids are almost used to that. Obviously, it hits home a little more when it’s your mom, but playing in the championship game was something he wanted to do, and it was something he was dreaming of and training for his entire athletic football career. I think he wanted to honor her by going out there and playing a great game, and he did that.”

Even before this season, Seminole’s football players had experienced several other tragedies. Assistant coach Ray Caraballo, one of Coach Lodge’s best friends, died in an industrial accident on the morning of Seminole’s last game of the 2018 season. In 2015, standout junior linebacker Kameron “Kam” Moore – just 11 years old at the time – lost his father, former Seminole High player and assistant coach Ron Moore, in a shooting.

Kam was one of the defense’s stars this season, along with defensive lineman Joshua Lyles, who has since signed to play at Campbell University in North Carolina. Seminole’s offensive standouts were quarterback Timmy McClain and wide receiver Jimmy Horn, Jr., who both signed with the University of South Florida in Tampa. More players signed college scholarships on National Signing Day in February.

“I feel a lot of pride playing for this team,” says Kam, who also has four half-brothers who have played football for the Seminoles. “The people from Sanford, they know about the tradition we have here, and it means a lot to the community. Our team has gone through a lot of things, but we just decided to stay strong and not let those things get to us. Hopefully, we can do it again next year.”

That’s definitely not out of the question.

Seminole’s football team has posted a 53-6 record over the past five years, and for the first time in school history, all three of the school’s football teams – freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity – were undefeated.

“Hopefully,” Coach Lodge says, “we will have a lot to look forward to in the years to come. We have really good assistant coaches and really good players, so every year it’s a good possibility!”

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