Nick DeFroscia picked off a pass and headed straight for the end zone. He jumped high when he got there and celebrated with his teammates.
It was a moment so precious for DeFroscia, a moment he needed, a moment he earned.
DeFroscia is a linebacker for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas football team.
Three days earlier, DeFroscia was one of hundreds of Douglas students who were literally running for their lives, stepping over fallen classmates and trying to find safety as gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire in the hallways of the high school.
Cruz was booked into Broward County Main Jail Thursday morning and he is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for the shootings at Douglas.
Among those killed was Douglas assistant coach Aaron Feis, who died from multiple gunshot wounds sustained while protecting students from the gunfire. Douglas athletic director Chris Hixon was also killed, as well as cross-country coach Scott Beigel, senior swimmer Nicholas Dworet and freshman soccer player Alyssa Alhadeff.
Along with their coaches that included head coach Willis May, DeFroscia and six of his teammates returned to a familiar setting on Saturday morning when they attended the Orange Bowl’s second annual Florida High School Football Showcase, presented by Cleveland Clinic at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
The event brings together small colleges and some area football players who otherwise might not get noticed, and gives a chance for both sides to interact while the players compete on the field in drills.
“We just wanted to come out there today just to try and kind of forget everything,” DeFroscia said. “This was our escape. I don’t even know how to explain it. How we indeed truly are, just leaving everything on the field. It was an individual decision by all of us because everyone is feeling different about the situation. It was just a great feeling to be out here today, especially when I scored and walked in the end zone and high fived guys.”
Other Douglas players participating were Tyler Goodman who quarterbacked the team, Bradley Vilasaint, Robby Rodriguez, Andrew Siren, Edison Pratts and Adoni Black.
“They really didn’t know what they wanted to do,” said May, who was in his office meeting with college scouts when the shooting occurred.
“So I kind of told them, ‘Listen guys, we need to do this, we need to wear Douglas colors from head to toe and need to go out and show people that we’re Douglas Strong. … If you can walk out there and play ball after what you’ve been through, that’s going to show a lot of people your integrity and strength from within.’ Finally they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go out there and ball for Coach Feis because that’s what he would’ve wanted us to do,’ ” May said.
“They were a little apprehensive about it because they’ve spent the last few days grieving. They just feel so sad for everybody in our community, the kids that they knew that passed away, our assistant coach, our AD. But I’ll tell you one thing, they’re glad they’re out here now because I’ve been watching them laugh, smile, interact with other athletes and I think they’re really glad they did it. This is such a healing process for them. This, I really felt was an important first step. We’re so glad we pushed them to do it. The timing of this event could not have been any better.”
Douglas’ football players weren’t the only athletes from the school trying to regain a sense of normalcy in the wake of the tragedy.
The baseball team, which won a state and national title in 2016, held its first practice since the shooting on Saturday at nearby North Broward Prep School in Coconut Creek.
With Douglas High still closed on Friday, North Broward Prep allowed Douglas to use their field for practice.
Douglas had its preseason game originally scheduled for Thursday against North Broward Prep canceled after the shooting and is scheduled to open the regular season on Tuesday against Belen Jesuit at Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines, as part of that school’s annual early season baseball tournament.
The Douglas girls’ basketball team is scheduled to play its Region 3-9A quarterfinal playoff game against Cypress Bay at 7 p.m. Thursday. The game was originally scheduled for this past Thursday.
One of that team’s players, Maddy Wilford, was shot by Cruz and remains hospitalized in Deerfield Beach.