The doors to the Clairton Bears’ locker room are closed. A space usually pumped full of booming bass from hip-hop music is silent, except for the young man in the corner wearing a black No. 9 jersey. Sitting on a bench, he bows his head and cries.
His name is Robert Boatright. He’s a senior running back and defensive end. Senior Night festivities are complete, and Boatright still doesn’t know if he’ll play college football. Now he’s gulping back tears.
Terrish Webb is Boatright’s best friend. He moves to Boatright and consoles him. Webb knows where he’ll play next year, at Kent State. Even with his clarity on a night full of questions, Webb begins to cry, too. His father was murdered when Terrish was 11, and it hurt hearing his dad’s name announced on Senior Night.
The rest of the seniors join Webb in forming a circle around Boatright, wrapping their arms around each other. Nobody else can enter. They’re the protectors of a historic winning streak that weighs on them daily. It’s at 55 now, will be 56 in a few hours, one more box checked until Heinz Field on Nov. 23, when they’ll likely set a state record of 60. If they lose before then — or any other time, really — they believe they’ll be seen as failures.