Helmet off while revealing braces on his teeth with a beaming smile, senior defensive end Ayomide Olabade of Reseda High was asked on Friday night what it felt like playing in his first high school football game since 2019.
"It felt like heaven. Sack heaven," he said after recording five sacks in a 22-14 win over host Crenshaw.
For all the obstacles that needed to be overcome just to play a City Section football game in April, it's clear those participating couldn't have been happier that someone finally said, "Yes, you can play."
"We love what we do," said Reseda senior Androw Nesem, who ran for two touchdowns.
Let's be honest: Who actually believed the Los Angeles Unified School District finally would approve a spring football season? It was touch and go. Since March of 2020, coaches weren't allowed to work with players. Only for a few weeks in November was there any in-person interaction.
Many players gave up hope and got jobs instead of working out. Others decided they didn't want to take the responsibility of having to schedule weekly COVID-19 tests to be allowed on campus to practice last month.
"A lot of our team didn't want to stick it out," Crenshaw defensive end Jamouri Leonard said.
There are so many protocols and clearances required that it's like being in the military.
Those who refused to give up hope have been rewarded. Spring football is happening, and what a moment it was for those participating Friday. They've endured so much.
"Everybody has made a sacrifice because of the guidelines and all the things that are being asked of these guys as far as being tested weekly and making sure they are being safe outside of school," Reseda coach Alonso Arreola said. "It's also been really hard in remote learning and to have a group of kids stick it out is great."
Nesem is an example of a senior making a sacrifice. He's the starting goalie for Reseda's soccer team, but LAUSD rules don't allow students to play two sports simultaneously. So he's playing football until April 30, then will join the soccer team.
"This is definitely a life lesson," he said of the yearlong pandemic. "It teaches us responsibility. It's not easy to get COVID tested every week. But we love football. It's the price we pay to be out here."
Crenshaw coach Robert Garrett has been running his program since 1988. He's not going to change, pandemic or not. He had a roster of 21 players on Friday, most of whom are underclassmen.
The school that has produced the likes of De'Anthony Thomas and Brandon Mebane is down to a student body of 625 students. It's challenging the patience of Garrett.
"You want me to make chicken soup, and I have no ingredients," he said.
Garrett is devoting his attention to players such as Leonard, the junior lineman playing both ways who's a good student and works part time at Chipotle. "I decided I wanted to do it all," he said. "I just love being on the field."
Even though sometimes he gets yelled at by Garrett, Leonard said, "Coach Garrett is definitely inspiring."
Garrett has promised, "Those who are there will be champions one way or the other. They'll grow and get better."
Across the City Section, coaches are doing their best multitasking as teachers, coaches and counselors. It's daunting, but they're giving teenagers the chance to finally create memories that will last a lifetime.
Imagine what it was like for the Olabade family seeing Ayomide get five sacks. His brother, Adedeji, a junior, played defensive end opposite him. Another brother, Adedamola, is a freshman who was on the Reseda sideline. Their father is from Nigeria. Their mother is from Indiana. And they were all there to see the historic night.
"It's pretty cool," Ayomide said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.