TAMPA — He trotted out onto the field through the same tunnel used by past Super Bowl champions and future Hall-of-Famers.
He ran down the sidelines like players from his favorite team — the New Orleans Saints — had just months before.
And he completed passes in a stadium built to hold 65,890 screaming fans.
It was an opportunity like nothing Braden River High sophomore quarterback Ryan Fischer had ever experienced before.
On May 22, Fischer and the rest of the Braden River football team played in the Pirate Bowl — a full dress intrasquad scrimmage at Raymond James Stadium, complete with officials, cheerleaders and the school’s Marching Band of Pirates.
“As soon as I walked in, I thought about all the professional people that have stepped foot on this field, played on this field and the history that was made on this field,” Fischer said. “I thought, ‘Wow I’m actually stepping on the same grass that Reggie Bush stepped on.’”
The Pirates made history, becoming the first high school team to play at Raymond James Stadium — the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the University of South Florida Bulls and the site of two Super Bowls.
“It was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be,” said junior outside linebacker Keith Grafton, who had never been to Raymond James Stadium. “This place is a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be.”
Braden River coach Don Purvis, who took over the helm in March, came up with the idea and contacted the stadium a few months ago about using the facility. Purvis had done something similar during his three-year tenure as the head coach at First Assembly Christian School near Memphis, Tenn., taking his team to the University of Mississippi for a practice.
After officially securing the field, Purvis told his players about the scrimmage.
“I just told them, ‘Hey guys we’re going to play a scrimmage game on Saturday the 22nd, and they were just kind of like, ‘OK fine,’” Purvis said. “And I said, ‘What’s exciting about that is not what we’re doing, it’s where we’re doing it.’ Then I told them where we were going and they were cheering and stuff, so it was kind of like being a father on Christmas to see them come here and be excited.”
Everyone in attendance, including the players, coaches and fans, paid a $15 admission fee, which included the team’s use of the visiting locker rooms and the field for two hours and a barbecue following the scrimmage.
Additionally, the team sold Pirate Bowl T-shirts for $10 and received $2,000 from corporate sponsorships. The event was expected to cost roughly $8,000 in total, but because to the support of the players and their families, the school and the community the Pirates were able to raise enough money to cover the cost.
“(The goal was to create) a sense of football family here,” Purvis said. “My wife (Leah) and I are new and a lot of our coaches are new, so it’s about just being with this school and these families and the kids. To be able to do something that’s unique was worth all of it.”
After warming up, the players spent two hours running their offensive and defensive schemes in preparation for tonight’s Spring Game at Riverview.
The game got off to fast start when Jaredd Pate rumbled 70 yards down the field for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. The Pirates offense added two more rushing touchdowns and backup quarterback Alex Patterson connected with Reshay McQueen before calling it an afternoon.
“It was pretty fun coming out here and playing our teammates,” Grafton said. “I just wish we could’ve been playing someone else, but a scrimmage is alright I guess — just the experience of being here.”
“It’s a great idea, especially before next week to have a fun time like this with our new coach,” he said of playing at Raymond James Stadium. “This is unbelievable.”
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