DENVER -- South High School's football team is honoring one of its players after he lost his life at a party last summer, by dedicating all of this season's games in his memory.
“He was just a bundle full of energy,” remembered Denver South head football coach Ryan Marini.
“He was always excited, energetic, and joyful,” said South senior receiver Jayshawn Leyba.
“He was a really pure dude,” adds South senior running back Bryce Jones. “He was always happy, smiling, he was always giving people hugs. We always say, ‘smile like Davarie,’ because he was always smiling.”
They’re all talking about Davarie Armstrong, a 17-year-old young man who was shot and killed at a party in the summer of 2020.
Armstrong was not only a critical member of the Denver South football team, but he was beloved by the South community at large.
The night Armstrong died was one of the worst of his life, Marini says. He had to call the members of his team in the middle of the night to deliver the news.
“I was feeling broken,” said Leyba, about receiving that call. “I was in disbelief, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.”
“It was just heartbreaking,” said Jones. “It devastated me for real.”
Along with the sadness and shock came a cold reminder that this type of senseless violence is not necessarily new for the young men and women of Denver.
“It could happen to anybody,” said Jones. “If it could happen to Davarie it could happen to me, it could happen to you, it could happen to any of my brothers on this team. That’s an angel that was taken from us too early.”
Armstrong’s death shook the Ravens football team to their collective core.
“Honestly in August [when we were supposed to start the football season] we weren’t all there yet,” said Marini.
But when the pandemic delayed the football season until the spring, South found their chance to heal. Playing in 'Season C’ gave the players and coaching staff a chance to process Armstrong’s death. They’re now playing – and winning – for him, and his presence is never far away.
“We’ve got patches that my brother-in-law designed for us; we put those on our home jerseys,” said Marini. “We’ve got a number 27 sticker we put on our helmet.”
“We always keep his jersey on our sidelines,” said Jones. “Every time somebody makes a touchdown, we go grab it and we hold it.”
“It gives me a reason to play,” said Leyba. “A reason to be here. Knowing that he can’t, then I just do everything for him.”
On Senior Night at All City Stadium, the Ravens took things one step further. They honored Armstrong and his family with a mural that would be hung up in the hallways of Denver South High School.
“It was a moment as a coach I actually had to step away,” said Marini. “It was so emotional. But then, after the game, I just completely broke down.”
“It was surreal,” said Jones. “You could just feel him. His soul travels this earth with us every day that’s, how it feels.”
Armstrong’s spirit is lifting South to new heights – they’re one of the best teams in the state - undefeated, and coming off an upset over the number one ranked team in class 5A, Vista Peak Prep.
“This has been about the journey, not about where we end up,” said Marini. “[I want them to] enjoy this journey, enjoy each other, and enjoy loving each other up.”
Who knows where this season will take them; but for Bryce Jones, a shot at the state title feels like destiny.
“That’s the only way we can end it at this point,” said Jones. “It’s going to be perfect, it’s for Davarie.”