At Coronado High School, and throughout California - this has been no ordinary season.
“In 23 years of coaching high school football I've never practiced the Monday after Easter,” head coach Kurt Hines joked. “It's very welcomed.”
The return of connection and contact, after a year that allowed little of either.
“Seniors on down have really shown how much they miss being here being together.”
That includes one player who before this season didn't necessarily know that they belonged.
“I know she's a young woman,” Hines said. “But she's a football player.”
Tatum Wade has played just about every sport - from hockey to softball, volleyball to rugby, and others in between. She entered her junior year looking for a new challenge. She joked to her dad that she could play football. His response: "You could."
“So I did and I fell in love,” Wade added.
In February she got her first taste of tackle football. As Tatum got the hang of the game, her teammates got a glimpse of what she's all about.
“They learned very quickly through our practice that when she gets knocked down she gets right back up,” Hines said. “And there have been a few times that she's run through other people.”
That comes with the territory.
Tatum is a backup running back for the varsity team, and plays linebacker on JV.Tthe physical demands that come with those positions are the same for her as they are for her peers.
“There's literally no difference at all, and shame on me if there would be a difference,” Hines explained. “We don't want any players going any differently against her and she wouldn't want that.”
“I've never really been scared of the physicality, it's actually why I continue to play it,” Tatum said. “I've had guys be like, ‘why are you playing football you're gonna get hurt’. Well it's football, everyone gets hurt.”
She knew full well what she signed up for.
“Yes I'm gonna get hit. Yes I may get crushed sometimes, but who's to say I can't do the same back?”
It just might require some extra effort. Tatum knows that in a sport full of young men she'll often be at a physical disadvantage.
“That doesn't mean we don't work three times as hard to get where you are.”
That approach earned her the admiration of her teammates, as well as a chance to do something all football players dream of. On April 2, with Coronado looking to extend their lead over Hoover, Hines called on number 40.
“I got the ball and my line blew the hole wide open.”
Tatum scored a touchdown - but it's what happened after she crossed the goalline that stood out. Her teammates on the field and the sideline exploded with excitement.
“That honestly meant the world,” Tatum said. “It was my favorite part of the whole thing.”
“They did that because they know who she is and how bad she wanted it and how hard she works,” Hines added.
That scene underscored one aspect of the game Tatum truly appreciates,
“I've played 12 other sports, I've never experienced a family this fast, and this big and understanding as football.”
Tatum plans on playing again next season. Like any football player, it's not just the camaraderie that keeps her coming back.
“I can't wait to knock more guys like I did this year.”
Coronado closes its 2021 spring season with a visit to Crawford Friday night.