If you think Calumet senior Jecari Winford ran out on the football field last Friday hanging his head because his Warriors were 0-9, you'd be wrong.
There probably wasn't a happier Hoosier in cleats when the state tournament kicked off.
"I've had some struggles," Winford said. "It hasn't been easy."
Winford grew up on the mean streets of Chicago. His older brother was shot twice, on two different occasions. He was also run over by a car.
"I thank God," Winford said. "Jesus was on our side."
His father battled alcoholism for many years. On one nervous night the family had to rush the progenitor to the hospital.
"They said Daddy would've died if we wouldn't have got him there," Winford said. "He's doing better now. He stopped drinking and he got a job."
The family moved to Indiana to try and find a better life. They enrolled their 6-foot-6, 330-pound son at Calumet High School. He felt like he'd won the lottery.
"When I first came here I loved it," he said. "When I saw the football team I got a big smile on my face. I had never played before. When I got my first tackle my freshman year, I got up and started doing jumping jacks."
But the hard road returned.
First, the family had their lights and power turned off at their home. And they relocated to Gary, where Winford enrolled at West Side.
"When they shut our lights off it broke my heart," Winford said. "I didn't want to move."
The transition to the new school didn't go well. Plus, his grandmother got ill in Chicago and the family lived with her for five months trying to lend a hand.
Eventually, the special needs student returned to Calumet for his senior year. With his patented smile on his face.
"I can read, but not that well," Winford said. "I try. I need help. My teacher tells me I need to try and do it on my own. I'm getting better."
Calumet football coach Ivan Zimmer was extremely happy when he saw Winford back on his roster this fall. Not because the big kid is hard to block. Well, not just that.
Zimmer loves a great human interest story about never quitting and always fighting, no matter what the scoreboard reads.
"His life story bodes well for his future," Zimmer said. "Just because obstacles were in his way, he kept working. Too many young people today see one obstacle and they quit. They don't have perseverance.
"Life is tough. We're all going to have hard times. I'll take a kid like Jecari any day of the week."
The "life is tough" theme has been with the Warriors all season. A very young team went 0-9. They drew Gavit in the sectional opener. The Glads pounded Calumet 38-14 in Week 1.
The Warriors shocked the state last Friday by beating the Glads 30-24. Calumet will host South Bend St. Joe's in Friday's Class 3A Sectional 17 semifinal.
"This is my last year, when we won that game I was crying," Winford said. "We get to play another one. I was so happy, so excited. I had mud all over me and stuff.
"It was the best day of my life."