MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kirby High School players have overcome a lot this school year, leading them to capture a regional title in the regular season.
“Football is like a safe haven from everything outside our school really,” quarterback Jaden Johnson said.
Starting in the beginning of the school year, students missed around two weeks for a rat infestation.
“I felt embarrassed a little bit," Johnson said.
And then they found out in September they wouldn’t be able to return for at least three months. Instead, students are split up and attending school in other locations.
“Even though we weren’t in school regularly, kids all showed up motivated, focused, ready to go," Coach Chester Flowers said.
Flowers said he was encouraged. But when they hit the field, something else hit them in the stands.
“Some of the worst came out of our opponents: mean-spirited signs," he said. “For example, someone brought a huge sign that took great effort to make and it said ‘home of the rats.’”
“They called us rat pack they had signs all around us, on social media, every day," Johnson said.
Teammates said they were frustrated but instead responded in the games.
“It made us have to bond together," senior Terryean Collins said.
"They use those challenges to bring us closer as a family. The bond we have as a unit is awesome," Flowers said.
And it’s paid off. The Cougars have won nine games and only lost one, they're regionial champions and the number one seed going into the playoffs.
Ironically, they still play just steps away from their vacant building.