PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — The Pine Forest High School Eagles are headed to the Florida 6A state football championship, despite the loss of a former teammate.
Former Pine Forest star Ladarius Clardy, or LD for short, was shot and killed July 1 in Pensacola while he was visiting from college. He died before starting his sophomore year of college at Kennesaw State University.
Clardy’s passing serves as inspiration for the Eagles as they chase their first championship in 21 years.
Pine Forest Principal Deborah Ray is proud of the team’s work during a difficult season.
“(The team has been) dedicated, and I think a large part has to do with how we started,” said Ray. “We started out with a devastating loss with one of our past players, (Ladarius Clardy), and I think that’s been a motivator for them.”
LD’s father, LaDaron Clardy, believes his son’s loss has inspired his former teammates this season.
“Several of them have reached out to me and said, ‘We’re going to win it for him,” said LD’s father.
Players were seen Friday morning taking a painting of Clardy on the bus with them, as they loaded up and headed to Fort Lauderdale for the 6A state championship game.
The team also took a piece of their field dedicated to Clardy with them. It will be on the sidelines on Saturday, according to head coach Ronnie Douglas.
And a player wearing Clardy’s No. 2 will serve as the team’s captain, Douglas said.
LD’s father said his son has “been with the team all season” and believes LD would be proud of their accomplishments.
“He’d definitely be proud of them. He’s going to be with them,” LD’s father said.
“Pine Forest is going to be prepared; they’re going to shock the world; and they’re going to handle business.”
Friends and family wished the team goodbye and good luck Friday morning at the high school. The 12-1 Eagles will take on the undefeated Tampa Jesuit Tigers Saturday night at 7 p.m. EST.
Pine Forest is seeking its fourth state championship. The Eagles’ last championship came in 2000, when they upset juggernaut St. Thomas Aquinas.