Friday, June 5, 2020 | 2 a.m.
There’s a text chat group that keeps about 25 former Desert Pines High football players and a handful of coaches in touch. It’s been around for years.
Some days, the chat is dormant. Other days, there is news to report — someone is about to be a father, is getting married, got a new job or is excited to play in an upcoming college game.
In good times and bad, the group members understand they have a support system that is unwavering. It’s family, which they affectionately refer to as DPP, or being a Desert Pines product.
“This is a brotherhood that lasts a lifetime,” said Darius Stewart, a 2020 graduate who is about to leave to play in college at Northern Colorado.
With commencement ceremonies canceled this year because of coronavirus concerns, a group of the program’s supporters stepped up to make sure graduates received a farewell last weekend. There was food, decorations, gifts and a chance for players and team officials to speak. After not seeing each other for most of the past two months because of the pandemic, it was a fitting tribute.
“We want to do right by the kids, do right by people,” assistant coach David Hill said. “We don’t have all of the resources, but when we all come together, we are able to show the kids how much we care.”
There’s something about the football program at Desert Pines — an at-risk school in northeast Las Vegas — that continues to impress.
It has nothing to do with winning, although they won the state title in 2016 and 2017 and were undefeated before losing in the state semifinals last fall. It has nothing to do with sending players on to college football — 34 players since 2017, which rivals the number of any school in town. It’s how they accept everyone, regardless of background, into the DPP family.
“I really wish our country had a football locker room mentality,” said Tico Rodriguez, the Desert Pines coach. “We have a bunch of guys from different backgrounds and cultures working together for a common goal. We’d be a much better place if we didn’t care about your nationality.”
Rodriguez, a Cuban-American, has been at the school for more than 20 years, first serving an assistant coach. Hill, his top assistant, graduated in 2007 and teaches at the school. Former players Michael Cosgrove, Tim Hough and Jeremiah Poutasi are each on staff.
Each coach comes from a different background and each has found a home in the Jaguars program.
“We have that stability that sets us apart,” Rodriguez said. “This city is very transient. People coach for two or three years, and those relationships are lost. Not here. We have that family feel.”
And like most families, Desert Pines has experienced heartache. When the news has come down — losing a game they should have won, dealing with severe a injury, or a death in the family — the group members have consoled each other.
Winning a football game is nice. It’s just not the sole purpose of the program, where leaders are determined to give teenagers a good experience and establish a lifelong bond.
When one member of DPP excels, the others feel as if they are part of the achievement. And when someone needs a pick-me-up, they have a brotherhood that is a text message away.
“These relationships are why you get into coaching and working with kids,” Rodriguez said.