MOORE HAVEN — Being in the middle of a memorable victory for the Moore Haven High School football team is right where Yopalakiyo Osceola wanted to be on an autumn Friday night during his senior year.
Osceola, a newbie to football, started on the offensive line at right tackle and helped Moore Haven post its first victory against Glades Day in nearly 20 years.
“I love it,” Osceola said in summation of his first few games as a Terrier.
Moore Haven shrugged off a two-and-a-half hour weather delay at the start and emerged with a 27-21 win against Glades Day in a Sept. 11 game that ended about 10 minutes past midnight.
“Big rival,” first-year Moore Haven coach Richard Roudybush said. “We haven’t beat them since 1996, about 14 times. It’s a big deal.”
Not only did Moore Haven win a rivalry game, but it also knocked off a team that has won more state football championships than all but two other schools in Florida.
Osceola and Conner Thomas are the lone Seminoles on Moore Haven’s varsity squad. Thomas, a freshman lineman, suited up for the game but didn’t see any action. Both players play other sports, but they are football rookies who have quickly fit in with the Terriers.
Osceola, son of Richard and Dana Osceola, stepped into a starting role right away. Thomas, son of Frank and Cecilia Thomas, has split time as a backup on the varsity and a starter on the junior varsity in the first month of his high school career.
“We love having them,” Roudybush said.
Osceola plays basketball for Moore Haven, but with time running out to play football in his high school career, he decided to give the gridiron a shot thanks in part to lobbying by his coach.
It doesn’t take long for new football coaches to recognize big kids at small schools, which is why Osceola landed on Roudybush’s radar right away.
“When I first got hired I saw him walking the hallways and I said, ‘Who is that kid?’” Roudybush said.
Osceola said he’s 6-foot-2 and about 250 pounds, but No. 65, whose black curls escape from his helmet, looks bigger while playing on a Terrier line that has provided guidance along the way.
“I’m still learning plays. I get help from my right guard Sean Cowen,” Osceola said.
Osceola made his debut in a preseason win against Jupiter Christian in August. Comfortable regular season wins against Somerset Academy and Lake Placid set the stage for the showdown against Glades Day in week 3.
“Glades Day has one of the best defensive lines we’ll play all year,” Roudybush said.
Osceola and his fellow linemen met that stern test early and often as they paved paths for the team’s speedsters coming out of the backfield. Osceola provided a couple blocks on the first play of the game. On the third play, he helped clear the way for D’angelo Ware, one of several Terriers with impressive speed, to pick up 15 yards and a first down.
Later in the quarter, the elusive Ware rushed for a touchdown that gave Moore Haven a 14-7 lead as the Terriers’ marching band belted out “Louie Louie” on the homeside bleachers that were nearly full. A late touchdown and a fumble recovery sealed the victory for the Terriers.
In addition to his right tackle duties, Osceola also plays on the interior line for extra points and field goals.
“He’s done a great job learning the game in his first year of playing football,” Roudybush said. “He’s done really well. Each week he’s learning and he’s starting to pick more and more up. He’s big, strong, moves real well, athletic. He’s a basketball guy, so he’s got good feet.”
After the football and basketball seasons end, Osceola said he plans to play baseball before he graduates. He and Thomas played for the Tribe on the diamonds in Alabama at NAYO this summer.
Similar to Osceola, Thomas, at 5-foot-9 and about 245 pounds, provides decent size on the line, whether it’s on varsity or junior varsity. Roudybush said the future is bright for Thomas.
“He has a chance to be a really good player for us,” Roudybush said. “He’s played well. He loves lifting weights and he’s always smiling.”
Thomas survived grueling practices before the regular season started.
“The first two weeks of practice were tough,” he said, but added that he never considered giving up. “I like it too much to quit.”
Thomas saw varsity playing time against Jupiter Christian and in the season opener against Somerset Academy. Even though he didn’t play in the Glades Day game, he knows he was part of something special.
“I’m not sure about all the big rivals; I just got here,” he said, “but I know Glades Day was a big rival.”