As the Alvord Bulldogs start a new season on the gridiron, a sense of optimism fills the air.
Donning their black and old gold, the Bulldogs will take the field at home Friday in the anticipated season opener against Millsap driven by the words of one who is in their hearts and minds:
“Be Strong. Be Courageous.”
That was the motto of Marcus Silletti, the would-be Alvord freshman, who died in July in an accident on the train tracks near the intersection of Elm and O’Neil streets.
“Marcus was a good kid,” said senior running back Brandon Aeling. “Be strong. Be courageous. That was his motto – that’s the motto on our shirts.”
The football team is wearing shirts and wristbands with the phrase, and his initials are on their helmets.
Silletti’s death was one of three tragedies that touched the school over the summer. Senior Aisha Bryant was killed in a car accident on U.S. 287 in May. In late July, incoming freshman Cheyanne Dollins was struck by a train and killed north of Alvord.
This summer’s tragedies came less than two years after then-senior Sam Rogers and Delaney Mancil, a Class of 2013 member, were killed in an accident on U.S. 380 near Krum in November 2010.
Through it all, Alvord ISD Superintendent Bill Branum said the students have pushed on and remained strong, especially in this first week of class.
“Our general motto is we honestly take it one day at a time and try to do everything we can that day,” Branum said. “Our students and staff have come in with a positive and optimistic approach.
“No one will ever forget. At the same time, I’ve been pleased with the overall start – the smiles and the enthusiasm. We’re doing our best, trying to be mindful and be there in any way to help.”
Aeling has seen his teammates and the community rally together.
“In a small town like this, a death of a teenager affects everyone,” he said. “We’ve all come together and supported each other.
“Everyone is supporting us. We had a pep rally before a scrimmage, which we’ve never had before. Before we play Friday, everyone will be tailgating. It helps to have everyone behind us.”
Aeling and his senior teammates have reached out to the freshmen who have been struggling with the loss of their classmates. Aeling points out that unfortunately, they all have experience dealing with tragic loss.
“We know what they’ve been through,” Aeling said. “[The seniors] have been mentors to all the freshmen. We’ve tried to keep all the freshmen together.”
Freshman Jaylon White said the support from the seniors has helped, but he and his teammates still miss having their friend on the field with them.
“It’s been tough without him,” White said. “He’d break tackles like you couldn’t believe.”
Fellow freshman Damon Ledet added: “He was friends with everyone.”
Both were anxious to play a game to move on.
Head coach Curtis Enis said he’s been patient with the freshmen. After only 13 members of the class with 25 boys turned out for preseason workouts, he went and met with them earlier this week.
“We were able to get six to come out,” Enis said. “We gave the kids that didn’t come out for two-a-days a hall pass of sorts. We understand what they are dealing with. I told them now school has started, we’ll take you and go on. The kids that came out for two-a-days were for it.”
The new players will have to wait until next week before taking the field.
While the community still has some healing to do, Enis said this week and Friday night are needed steps in that direction.
“We needed school to start and to get the kids back together,” he said. “We don’t want to forget, but they need to go pursue their own dreams.”