To say that Miramar (Fla.) High offensive lineman Gerard Toussaint didn't expect to be on the field during Saturday's Florida Class 8A state title game two years ago is an understatement.
Sure, Toussaint was at Miramar's last state title appearance in 2009, but he was performing in a very different role: He was playing a trumpet. In fact, Toussaint wasn't even part of the Miramar football program at the time.
Now, at 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Toussaint will have a much more active role in Miramar's final game of 2011, with a state championship on the line against Tampa (Fla.) Plant High. Yet, as reported by the Miami Herald, Toussaint still probably wouldn't be as significant a factor in Saturday's matchup if it weren't for a less fortunate turn of events: The tragic death of his friend and former teammate, Isaiah Laurencin, during team conditioning drills just weeks before the start of the current season.
Toussaint entered the summer training season as Laurencin's backup after a year spent on the Miramar junior varsity squad. Nonetheless, Toussaint was still one of the fellow lineman's best friends. Now, he is insisting that the memory of his lost friend has inspired he and his teammates' run through the state tournament.
"It's funny, we really had a friendly competition," Toussaint told the Herald
"I would tell him I'm going to take that spot. He would say 'Go ahead and try, we'll see.' Every [football] camp we would go to, you could see the fire in his eyes. At first, I didn't feel like I deserved [the starting job] because we didn't get to finish the summer [competition]. But after a while, I just looked at it like I have to do this for him. I have to finish what he started."
Miramar offensive line coach Costello Guyton said that Laurencin's death was a crushing blow for the entire program, but that the teen's passing helped his former teammates refocus on their own health, schoolwork and football.
Among all of those linemen, none may have been more affected than Toussaint, who has gone from a complete unknown to the cusp of a Division II football scholarship in a single year. It nothing else, that justifies that he made the right decision in giving up the trumpet, and that he has done plenty to make his former friend proud.
"I'd like to be a dentist one day," he said. "One way or another I have to make it, not just for me but for Isaiah too.
"He was a good friend. When he was here we worked hard together. Sometimes it's sad to think about how he wasn't here to finish this. But I'm sure he's watching. Saturday, we have to make him proud one last time."