Bruno Silva, who's 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, is a starting defensive end for Maya Angelou High with a 4.0 grade-point average and an academic scholarship awaiting him at Cal State Dominguez Hills. On Friday night, he’ll play in his final football game against Wilson.
“I might cry,” he said.
To understand how important it was for him to have this abbreviated four-game COVID-19 spring season, you need to learn about his journey.
He came here from El Salvador with his parents when he was 3. As a freshman weighing more than 200 pounds, he said, “I was a very fat boy,” so friends pushed him to join the football team because he had “the physique of a lineman.”
For three seasons, he learned the game. “It benefited me,” he said. “I lost weight, I made new friends, I learned how to play on a team. I got new experiences.”
Then COVID-19 hit and football stopped from March 2020 until the Los Angeles Unified School District gave permission to resume last month. Silva didn’t know if his parents would allow him to play. Both work. One’s a welder, the other works in clothing. He was responsible for taking care of his younger brother and sister, ages 10 and 8, since distant learning was happening at home.
He plotted one night to ask his parents. “My dad is very serious. I was very nervous to ask,” Silva said. “They’re my family. You have those moments. I went in there and complimented both to lighten up the mood.”
They figured out immediately, ‘OK, what do you want?’”
“Coach reached out to me. Football is starting up again.”
At 18, Silva does all his homework, stays out of trouble and takes care of his siblings.
“It’s really thanks to my understanding family I was able to make it,” he said. “I asked and they had to pull some strings with baby sitting. I’m very grateful they supported me. Now I have to do my part and come home and look after my siblings.”
Coach Gary Parks said he appreciates Silva finding a way to practice. “He gives a good hour of practice, then goes home to watch his brother and sister,” he said.
Despite his lack of size to play the line, Silva has been able to make major contributions for 2-1 Angelou.
“The coaches drill technique into us,” he said. “You don’t have to be the biggest guy to fight on that field. You have to want it and have heart. You have to know it’s not just for you, it’s for your team. If I need help with a guy I can’t block on my own, my teammate helps.”
Last week, Angelou made a goal-line stand to preserve a 14-8 win over Panorama. Silva ran off the field, his helmet half turned around, yelling to Parks: “Coach, I made the play. I made the play.”
“It was crazy,” he said. “They were so close to making a touchdown. It was fourth down. We were, ‘Darn, if we don’t stop this right now, we’re going to be tied.' One guy grabbed my face mask. It was intense. It was very surreal.”
Now comes the moment that figures to be his final game of football. Dominguez Hills has no football team and Silva is not exactly big enough to play elsewhere.
“I’m just stoked I get to play with these guys and coaches one last time,” he said.
The last year has been hard on Silva.
“I absolutely hate online learning,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean you still can’t get things done. It forces me to stay home and it’s very limited. It ruined football season because we’re limited to four games. I can’t see my friends. It’s one of the reasons I joined football again.”
Silva plans to study criminology at Dominguez Hills and perhaps enter law enforcement, his father's profession when they lived in El Salvador.
Despite all the obstacles he has faced, the sacrifices he has made, and ups and downs of the last year, Silva said of playing football, "At the end of the day, it was worth it. We got to play games, socialize with friends. Would I do it again? 100%.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.