Receiver Christian Torrens said he doesn’t bother to look at the scoreboard anymore, he just puts his head down and plays until the final whistle.
Linebacker Abel Lopez-Rijos says he and his teammates simply ignore the classmates who make fun of them during school pep rallies.
From the outside, it’s hard to imagine where a group of about 30 to 35 teenagers continue to find the strength to show up and play football when they have lost 29 consecutive games, been shutout 21 times and been outscored 1,209 to 46 during the last three seasons.
But the young men who put on the Gladiator uniforms for Hialeah Gardens High just keep grinding on, chasing the feeling of victory that has eluded them since the final game of the 2010 season.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It hasn’t shown on the scoreboard so it’s hard to believe, but the attitude and culture is a lot better around here than it was before,” said second-year coach Joe Harrington, a 33-year old former semi-pro special teams player and linebacker for the Magic City Bulls.
“I think we’re about another year or two away from turning this thing around.”
Hialeah Gardens, which won the Class 8A state boys’ basketball championship in 2012, has never been a football power since opening up in August 2009. There is no nearby youth football feeder program.
That forces coaches to teach nearly all incoming freshman the basics — everything from putting on shoulder pads and helmets to how to line up in a basic stance.
Those who do have playing experience or end up becoming decent players usually transfer to winning programs, Harrington said, making it hard to build any sort of momentum. But Friday’s season finale against Goleman (1-8) at Milander Stadium provides another opportunity to get things going on the right track.
“The kids keep at it, fight to the last gun,” athletic director Carlos Ochoa said. “Whether we’re down seven or down 40 it doesn’t make a difference to them. We’re trying to learn the game and play as hard as they can.”
The Gladiators’ losing streak, the second-longest in Miami-Dade County history, is three shy of the 32-game mark set by American in 1976.
It’s also the third-longest current losing streak in the state.
Tampa Leto has lost 39 games in a row on the field dating back to the end of the 2009 season, but they have claimed two victories by forfeit over that span (Armwood in 2011, Tampa King in 2010). Celebration has lost 30 games in a row since ending the 2010 season with a win over Lakeland Christian.
Last week, South Broward ended what was the longest active losing streak in Broward at 18 games.
That gives Harrington and his players hope. So does the fact the last time Hialeah Gardens won it was against the same neighborhood rival it faces Friday.
Lopez-Rijos and Torrens remember the game well.
“Honestly what keeps me motivated is all the difficulties we go through,” Lopez-Rijos said. “Everybody puts us down, everybody keeps us on the negative side. All that does is motivate me to show them we’re better than they think and that we can do way better than everybody sees. It’s just about pushing and fighting through it. My family keeps me motivated. God keeps me motivated. My team motivates me. We only got 24, 26 guys roughly. But we all stick it together and play with our hearts.”