Flagler Palm Coast High School is all about family. The word is even written across the football coach’s backs in practice. So when one of the Bulldog family is in need?
The team rallies, dedicating the final game of the undefeated regular season dedicated to a 12-year old girl.
Esperanza Bass, younger sister to defensive tackle Tyler Irigoyen, is an inspiration to both her brother – and the entire team who played Mandarin in her honor.
“Just going undefeated and knowing I played for her and the teammates who play with me, it was just amazing,” said Irigoyen.
At 6’3 and 230 pounds, this gentle giant of a football player would do anything to give his strength to Esperanza.
“Her battle is my battle.”
It was only a year-and-a-half ago that Esperanza went to the doctor because of pain in her knee. What seemed routine came back was a diagnosis of cancer.
“I really didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it at first,” said Essie. “Once the week went by it was like ok, it’s real now, this is real. But I didn’t believe it when they told us you are having symptoms of cancer.”
Essie takes chemo pills every day now. And the pain is something she has gotten used to. Her will to fight coming from moments like that Friday night, when she stood on the 50 with both her brother, and his coach Travis Roland.
Knowing she isn’t alone.
“He (Tyler) tells me everyday that I am doing this for you, don’t ever let yourself down,” said Essie. “He tells me everyday you got this or you are going to win this fight or something encouraging every single day.”
And on that Friday night, the encouraging words turned into an overtime win in her name.
“We know never giving up is the word,” said Essie and Tyler’s mom Shannon Gutierrez. “And those boys showed that that Friday night. It wasn’t just another Friday night with the lights on, it was all about Essie and what these boys could do to show her that she is not fighting alone.”
Instead she has all the Bulldogs, and her big brother, right beside her.