By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers aren’t dedicating their season to former teammate Everett Halikas this year. They’re dedicating way more than that.
And as they prepare for next week’s season opener, Halikas is never far from their thoughts.
“We miss the hell out of that kid,” head coach Jamal Jones said of Halikas, who passed away a year ago this week after contracting a form of bacterial meningitis shortly after his junior season. “And every day we go to work we understand that nothing is guaranteed. We feel him every day we go out there.”
This year, while the Aracta sports fields are being renovated, the Tigers are practicing on the softball field at the school, just yards away from where Halikas is buried in the cemetery just beyond the outfield fence.
And thoughts of their former teammate and friend are inspiring the players in more ways than just football.
“We’re not dedicating the season to Everett,” Jones said. “We’re dedicating our daily actions and how we operate as individuals every day.”
The Tigers open the season next weekend against league rivals Ferndale, and preparations, according to the coach, have been going well in what are unusual times.
“It’s been good,” Jones said. “To have these kids back after everything they’ve been through and to get them back out there, it’s good. We’re enjoying it and we understand what’s important.”
The Tigers feature a varsity roster of around 25 players and will not field a JV team this season, with a lot of young players and just five seniors on hand.
“There are a lot of underclassmen on our roster right now,” Jones said. “We’re young, but since I’ve been here we always find ways to get quality players within our program. And also that youth has a lot of experience.”
The five seniors expected to lead the way are Jack Baca, Robbie Dieker, Coleman Barker, Austin Mitchell and Mason Nichols.
“What I like about them is they’re just a bunch of humble kids,” Jones said of the roster. “They understand the importance of what we’re out there doing every day and they appreciate that.
“They understand the opportunity we have and they’re just embracing the opportunity to be together.”
Junior Shane Purcell will start at quarterback.
“Shane Purcell is ruthless,” Jones said. “He’s kind of like me. He doesn’t care about anything but going out and competing at a high level.”
Purcell is part of a talented group of juniors expected to play a big role this season, a group that also includes Carson Tucker, Alex Jioras and Tucker Rice.
“We feel we have a solid squad,” said Jones, adding that the Tigers have versatility on offense. “We’ll do what’s necessary to go out and win a football game.”
With just four spectators from the same household allowed per player at games, Jones said the Tigers are planning on streaming their homes games live.
Ferndale at Arcata, 7:30 p.m.
Del Norte at Arcata, 7:30 p.m.
Fortuna B at Arcata, 7:30 p.m.
Arcata at South Fork, 7:30 p.m.
Arcata at McKinleyville, 7:30 p.m.