EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Roland Vera Jr. texted his brother, Kaden Vera, on Friday ahead of Reitz’s crucial showdown against Castle.
“Help us tonight. Let us earn this victory. I love you.”
When Reitz’s emergency starting quarterback emerged from the bouncy panther in the north end zone before kickoff, he led in Kaden’s No. 13 jersey, white fist gripping him until to the student section at the south end. It’s a tradition he kept all season, whether he was playing under center, wide receiver or on defense. Before each home game, he passed Kaden’s sons to his former classmates outside the Rowdies’ student section.
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“He loves it,” Vera said. “He liked the Rowdies back then.”
Kaden died this summer of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. Now, every time Vera steps on the grill, he plays for his late brother.
“I’m just trying to be great for him,” Vera said, “I’m trying to make it happen for him.
“I’m doing everything for him right now.”
Vera was impressive again in the Panthers’ 41-10 victory over the Knights, scoring three touchdowns, all on the ground, and rushing for 169 yards while throwing 58 more. He had 227 total yards on offense. The teams entered the break tied on 10 points apiece, and the Panthers then exploded for 31 unanswered points.
Much of that was down to Vera’s play in another win that he dedicated to Kaden.
“He works hard,” Reitz coach Cory Brunson said. “He’s obviously faced a lot of adversity and he’s been defeated. He’s a leader on the pitch. I’m glad he’s just a junior and we’re getting him back.”
No matter where he’s lined up, Vera has been a big part of the Panthers’ revival this season, as they now hold a two-game lead over Castle in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference standings. Quarterback isn’t where Brunson or the rest of his teammates envisioned him playing this season — Vera is listed as a receiver and safety on MaxPreps.
“He’s like our Swiss army knife. He does everything,” Brunson said. “He does a bit of everything and he brings that racing dimension. I’m proud of what he did tonight and last week too.”
Highlights: Reitz vs Castle football
No. 9 Reitz beat No. 6 Castle 41-10 to take a two-game lead in the SIAC standings
Kyle Sokeland, Evansville courier and press
Regular starter Ben Davies came out with a shoulder injury, which led to Vera running to scout them. Last week, in a 44-0 win over Central, Vera threw for 187 yards and four touchdowns while adding another rushing score. It looks like going under center wasn’t too difficult for the ever-perfect juniors or Panthers to manage.
Although the passing stats aren’t the same as a week ago, no one on Reitz’s sideline will complain.
“I’m happy to step in and play quarterback,” Vera said. “We try to get a bit of everything, but the passes weren’t too important, so we just ran the ball. We were able to run the ball all game, so that’s what really worked. .”
Vera played quarterback when he was younger, which helped him transition into the backup role while Davies recovers. Even back then, he “never did a lot of overtaking,” he said. But he stepped into the role when the Panthers needed him and propelled them to their best start since 2016.
“I’m just picking up,” Vera said. “It’s still a learning process right now.”
Reitz is the only remaining undefeated team in the SIAC, and with three games remaining before the playoffs, one more victory will guarantee the Panthers at least a share of the conference title. Reitz faces Memorial, Bosse and Mater Dei to end the regular season, tough final three games. Brunson preached to his players the importance of staying focused as they knelt in midfield after the final whistle. Vera, whom he singled out as a leader, echoed that sentiment.
“We just have to keep training hard and doing what we keep doing,” Vera said, “and we’ll be good.”
In the end, everything Vera does is for her brother. White-knuckle grabbing Kaden’s No. 13 shirt every week and passing it in the stands means everything to him. It motivates him. He misses him very much.
“(It means) everything. Certainly everything,” he said. “(It means) everything, the world.”