On a spirited afternoon basketball practice at Mission Bay High School, Marshawn Cherry is clear on what lies ahead for his team.
"Biggest game of the year."
A loss ends their season. A win gets them one step closer to defending their sectional title.
"I think this game is the culimation of all the hard work we've put in," Cherry added. "And we've got to be mentally and physically ready for the challenge."
No matter what happens when the Buccaneers play Saturday, it's going to be nearly impossible to top what the program experienced the week before.
Along with his duties as head basketball coach, Cherry has been in special education for over 12 years. He has brought a few of his students around his program, but none have had an impact like Coby Herroon.
"Coby has a great big heart," his mother Ellen Hildebrand said. "And it's always wonderful when I see that people get that about him."
Ellen Hildebrand found out her son had Autism when he was a toddler. By the time the 16-year-old sophomore reached high school it was clear that sports would be a major part of his life.
"Basketball has just become his top passion and the one that he loves the best," Hildebrand added.
Thanks to Cherry and JV head coach Ray Williams, Coby got a chance to play his favorite sport.
"As soon as he came around we accepted him as a brother," Williams said.
In his first season with the program Coby had a positive influence on the Bucs without ever playing in a game.
"Here you have somebody like Coby who is so positive and charismatic, it's crazy, it's hard to be mad around him," Williams said.
"If they're not going hard enough he'll tell them they're not going hard enough," Cherry said. "So I tell them, 'if Coby is telling you you're not going hard enough, you're not going hard enough'."
That inspired the JV team to do something special for Coby in their final game of the season. In the fourth quarter against La Jolla, Coby provided the most memorable moment of the season.
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By far the Best Coaching Experience I've ever had in my 4 years of being a coach ! For the past 3 years since I have been coaching at Mission Bay, I have had atleast 1 player on my team who has been diagnosed with #Autism .. Each year they lightly participated in practices and got a chance to suit up for atleast 1 game. This year it was Coby ! Coby is hands down the glue that keeps this team together. Without Coby, there would be a lot of egos, pride, and unnecessary friction amongst the boys.Coby balances everyone out, keeps us all humble, and he keeps us all happy because of his charismatic personality ! All season long we planned to put Coby in the game for our last game of the season. We agreed that if he scored we would rush the floor no matter how much time was left in the game just to show him just how much we truly appreciate his hard work and dedication ! From running laps on the track with us, to sittin on the bench with me during every home game, we wanted to show Coby just how much he was apart of the team just like any other player on the roster ! Not only did he score once, but he scored twice !! I swear my heart was so full I didn't know what to do with myself ! Thank you for all that you have done for the Mission Bay Program Coby ! You are a real life inspiration & success story ! As much as I am considered the coach, and players are supposed to learn from me, I also learn a lot from each and every one of my players ! I wouldn't trade this group for players for anyone in the world ! I am blessed to be able to coach such a wonderful group of young men !! We love you Coby !! Thank you for an amazing lifetime experience !
A short jumpshot from the baseline sent the Mission Bay team into a frenzy.
"When the ball went through the net I lost it," Williams said.
"I felt like I was hyperventilating because it was so unexpected," his mother added.
"Three people texted me videos of him scoring and the excitement," Cherry said - whose varsity team was preparing for a game of its own. "I stopped the whole team, I showed them the video. Everyone went mad."
And Coby wasn't finished. He hit another shot and set off another unforgettable celebration.
"There was a lot of tears, they weren't just mine," Hildebrand said. "So people were choked up. They could see the love and the appreciation."
He won't get on the floor in Mission Bay's biggest games, but no one will play a more imporant role for the Buccaneers than Coby.
"It was one of the best moments of the year, one of the best moments of my coaching career," Cherry said. "The whole school is excited for Coby.
"Anybody that sees him, it's a high five and great job. And he deserves it."