Thinking of Jose: Lost friend, teammate Jenkins wasn't far from Michigan City's minds at semistate
MICHIGAN CITY -- Printed on the tape on one wrist was 'Solo;' on the other, 'Gang For Life.'
Jose Jenkins, Jr. wasn't far from Omarion Hatch's mind -- and heart -- as Michigan City played Friday's Class 5A Northern Semistate.
"That's my brother," Hatch said afterward. "I dedicated the game to him. I said a prayer (Thursday) night, I prayed (Friday) morning. I just kept praying."
Hatch was at practice Thursday when he first got word of Jenkins' death in an accident on I-94 near Springfield Towship. He had come into the locker room to use the bathroom when he heard his cell phone blowing up with text messages and phone calls. He went to check real quick.
"It wouldn't stop," he said.
One asked, 'have you heard about Jose?;' another read, 'They were saying he got hit by a semi.'
"I said, what's this?, what's going on?" Hatch said. "I didn't even believe it. That wasn't believable. I put my phone down and went back to practice."
Shortly thereafter, Hatch's cousin showed up at Ames Field with the horrific news that what he couldn't imagine to be true was indeed true.
"It was hard. That was my buddy," Hatch said. "It was just this week during practice. He came after. He was more happy than I was when we won sectionals and regionals. That really touched my heart."
Hatch, T'Lijah Robinson, Kennon Tucker Jr. and Gio Laurent were all basketball teammates of Jenkins. Some of them had gone as far back together as Joy Elementary School.
"That's where I met him," Laurent said. "It's pretty sad. We were all hanging out just a couple weeks ago. We grew up around some guys, Hatch, Dip (Robinson). We played basketball. I wasn't as hurt as Omarion and Dip, especially Dip. I'd never seen Dip cry. I was just here to be their comfort. I didn't want be another guy crying on another person. I wanted to be give them a shoulder to cry on."
Sports is a respite, an escape from the every day, an emotional outlet for coaches, players and fans alike. For Hatch and some others, the game took them away from the harshness of reality, at least for a few hours.
"I'm proud of Dip and especially O," Laurent said. "A lot of people got the excuse to stay home and not play in this type of game, but they came out and played and came out with a bang. I just hate that we couldn't get that win. The guys who were close to (Jenkins), I think they played a little harder, they played with a deeper meaning than just winning semistate. A lot of these guys were playing for somebody. Coach made us put some names on the board. Some people don't know those names, but those are people that we've lost. I think we were playing for something more just than a semistate."
Hatch smiled, thinking about the fact that he's still got a video game controller that belonged to Jenkins.
"Since we were so close, we used to trade stuff, hand stuff to each other," Hatch said. "Whatever I asked for, he gave it. Whatever he asked for, I gave it. I've still got some stuff from him."
Jenkins would've been hyped for his boy over his performance, as Hatch racked up 250 yards receiving and rushing for the Wolves in the loss to Zionsville.
"They were playing off, they were giving us everything really," Hatch said. "We just had to read off of that."
Despite the outcome, it was another electric performance for Hatch, who made the most of his 10 games, gaining eligibility in week five against Merrillville.
"I'm very proud," he said. "Most people didn't think I was even going to be here. That shocked everybody. I'm very proud of all the players, the coaching staff. They all brought me here. It's our last home game. We had to fight. Everybody had to give it their all. It was pretty tough, really frustrating, but I couldn't let that get in my head. I couldn't let my teammates get frustrated. I had to keep them up, too. Our guys played hard."
The finality of their last high school football game hit some of the players hard, but the sorrow of the prior 24-plus hours provided perspective on how it fits into the grand scheme of life.
"I'm not sad anymore," Laurent said. "It hard when the clock hit zero. Guys like this coming up to me, hugging me, saying good game. It's not really the fact we lost, though we wanted to win. I'm sad because I don't get to play with these guys anymore. I'm pretty proud of these guys. A lot of people didn't believe in us, even some of our own fans. We were in a deep gutter. A lot of people didn't think we'd get out of it. We got out of it and we kept our promise about getting another (championship) poster right there (on the locker room wall)."
The Wolves' physical talent stood out on the field, but it was the collective character of the senior class that took them within a step of Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Both (teams) came to play their hearts out. (Zionsville) just played a little harder," Laurent said. "My utmost respect for them. They came out of the gate firing. We had to come prepared for those guys. We just didn't do our best job. I'm really proud of younger guys believing in us, following our steps. We could've quit in the second quarter, the third quarter. We didn't. We kept fighting. That's one thing I'll always respect. We put a couple more points on the board. Hats off to my guys. I hope they keep this program where it's at when this senior classes leaves and don't let it get back in the gutter."
Michigan City football coach Phil Mason hugs senior Gio Laurent toward the end of Friday's Class 5A northern semistate loss to Zionsville at Ames Field. Photo by Robb Quinn