TAMPA, Fla. — The line between passion for the game and sacrifice is unmistakable for Jesuit High School’s Okeke brothers.
“Me and my brother butt heads a lot, but I love him the most,” Emy Okeke, a Jesuit senior linebacker, said. “It’s still me and him. We’re close.”
Close on and off the field — which is where Emy and his younger brother Gozy spent the first month of the season — in quarantine.
“They were missing it and really missed being out here,” Jesuit head coach Matt Thompson said.
As an eighth-grader, Gozy was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disorder. It’s something he lives with everyday.
“It causes inflammation on the skin and starts making little dots,” Gozy, a Jesuit junior offensive tackle, said. “It does the same thing to your organs."
"The doctors aren’t really sure what will happen and fear for my health. My parents wanted me to stay home, and my brother, they wanted him to stay home, too," Gozy added. "We continued social distancing and quarantining while the team was practicing.”
Gozy is classified as high risk to COVID-19.
“When they told us, my parents said we couldn’t play, I was devastated,” he said.
The brothers missed preseason workouts and the first four games of the season.
“I had been preparing, working out every single day,” Gozy said. “I was even more devastated for my brother.”
“Real downer at first,” Emy said. “But, then eventually you just come to terms with it. There are some things that are more important than others.”
Their doctor cleared the Okeke brothers to come back to the football field when coronavirus numbers dropped below five percent.
“Week five, it took until Week five for us to get on the field,” Emy said.
“I called them every week, almost every day,” Thompson said. “‘What’s your doctor saying now? What’s your mom say now?’ Not pressuring them to get out here. I totally understood it. Now that they’re out here, it’s like life is back. Overall, it makes everyone appreciate what they have.”
The Okeke brothers live to be Jesuit High School’s motto: “Men for Others.”
“Emy and Gozy are great examples of that,” senior quarterback Joe Pesansky said. “Emy had to hold out, now he’s playing, got his chance. We’re hitting hard. We’re bonding as a team, as brothers.”
Jesuit (13-0) will face American Heritage (9-2) this Friday night in the Class 5A State Semifinal.
“I was thrilled, exhilarated when we could come back,” Gozy said. “That was the best thing to happen in 2020.”
It can get better. The Tigers are two wins away from winning the school’s first state title in 52 years.