Ten minutes before kickoff of Yelm’s 4A Narrows League football game versus Stadium Friday night – a game the Torandos won, 16-6 – head coach Jason Ronquillo’s attention shifted from final on-field pregame preparation to junior quarterback Devante Pearson. And it was more than Pearson’s first game back from a shoulder injury that was on Ronquillo’s mind.
He’d learned big news: Pearson’s father, Army Command Sgt. Major Willie Pearson, was at Stadium Bowl after flying into town following a 7-month tour in Afghanistan. He arrived just in time to watch his son play a high school football game for the first time.
Not wanting to wait until postgame for father and son to be reunited again, Ronquillo acted fast. Let’s do this now, he thought, and summoned the Tornados to the visitors’ lockerroom.
In walked who Ronquillo briefed as a “special guest” to his players.
Seconds later, Sgt. Major Pearson and his son locked eyes and hugged for the first time since last Christmas.
“I had no idea he was going to show up,” Devante Pearson said. “I was pretty surprised to see him. “He was pretty happy to see me. I could tell.”
Ronquillo gazed the lockeroom, seeing the tears well up in many players’ eyes. It, too, was a touching moment for the Tornados’ second-year coach.
“It was wonderful looking at the kids,” Ronquillo said.
Command Sgt. Major Pearson, a 26-year Army veteran, is stationed in Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Scheduling conflicts and deployments meant he could only watch his son’s through internet highlight films.
Until Friday night.
“This time I actually got to see him perform live, which is very special to me,” the elder Pearson said.
Friday was Devante Pearson’s first game since a shoulder injury Sept. 18 against Timberline led to an early exit in Yelm’s 31-7 loss to the Blazers. He saw spot time Friday against Stadium, but did score the final touchdown of the night – a 7-yard run – to put the Tornados up by 10 points for the team’s final margin of victory. Yelm is now 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the 4A Narrows League.
Pearson said having his father in attendance gave him added motivation for the game.
“We had to win no matter what,” he said.
Sgt. Major Pearson’s homecoming to Yelm is brief. He returns to Colorado on Saturday.