Cross Trojans playing to remember defensive coordinator

Wright last year moments after winning the state title.

CROSS, S.C. (WCIV) -- When Cross High School takes the field on Friday night against Kingstree, it will exemplify the term "bittersweet."{}

It's their first time on the field to defend their first ever state title. It's also the first time they'll take the field since suffering tragedy. Just two weeks before beginning practice their defensive coordinator Antonio Simmons died suddenly, leaving a team and a town in complete shock.{}

"He was more than a coach: if you did wrong, he'd tell you the right way. He'd show you the right thing on and off the field. He was like a father figure to most of us," said Trojans senior Devantae Shepherd.{}

You can look at the football field two ways. You can look at it as a place to heal. You can also look at the football field as a place to move on.{}

"Coach Simmons was as passionate and insightful of a coach as I've been around. The kids would do anything he asked," said Cross Head Coach Shaun Wright. "He was the one that knew how to motivate. He was a better motivator than I was. We'll miss that, we'll honor his legacy by practicing hard and playing hard every down."

In small town USA, a football state title can mean everything.

It's a true statement for Cross, a football-rich town in a football-rich county who won their first ever state championship last year. Last month, this group of Trojans looked at a funeral in two ways.{}

"We've buried the state championship. I rarely pull out the ring," said Wright. "We have to find our identity with this team; basically we have to take this season unto itself. We hope we are coming out on top."{}

The tragedy is not only something that the kids have to deal with. Head Coach Shaun Wright certainly has to deal with it as well. This will be his first time stepping on the field without his best friend, his college teammate and his defensive coordinator standing next to him.{}

"I've had a chance to grieve. I've had a chance to put this into perspective. I've put life into perspective as a coach. I'm ready to represent what he stood for on Friday nights more than anyone else. That is my honor to him," Wright said.{}

The game goes on, you can look at the game in two ways. You can play to win. You can also play to remember.{}

"Coach like it's your last; play like it's your last," said Wright. "We've experienced that first-hand with Coach Simmons not being here. Our job is to coach and play each play each quarter like its your last because you never know."{}