Dejour Releford typically wakes up around 5 a.m. in his Fields Corner home to get ready for his school day at Boston English High. But his usual 45-minute MBTA commute wasn’t at all dreary on the overcast Monday morning following the Thanksgiving holiday beak.
“I was happy. I was actually happy about Monday. I usually hate Mondays, but today was a good Monday,” the senior wide receiver said while walking to his first-period forensic science class at 7:30 a.m., four days after snagging the game-winning touchdown as time expired for a 14-12 win over Boston Latin on Thanksgiving morning at Harvard Stadium.
The victory was English’s first triumph in the nation’s longest continuous high school football rivalry since 1997. And it was just the third win against the Wolfpack since 1967.
The win symbolized more than just gridiron glory for a school that was tagged by state officials as underperforming three years ago and lost more than $900,000 in federal funds last school year because it continued to underperform. (The state told the school it had to bring in an outside partner for this school year to avoid state receivership.)
Still, attendance was up 89 percent last year, according to second-year headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy. The school’s first female headmaster also said attendance is up 94 percent this year and federal funding has been reestablished, although she declined to say at what level.
MCAS results released in September showed the school improved to 60 percent proficient in English Language Arts from 39 percent in 2012. African-American students improved from 31 percent in English Language Arts proficiency in 2012 to 81 percent.
English High almost had to forfeit last year’s Latin game because of academic eligibility issues and injuries. This year, it had 29 players on the field after losing only six for poor academics, and it fielded a marching band at the English-Latin game for the first time in decades.
“This is a revival of English,” said Noriega-Murphy, who is planning a parade around the school Wednesday afternoon, to be followed by a students-vs.-staff flag football game. “It’s a new day. And the academics and the arts and the sports, it just goes all together. It’s a holistic approach.
“It was not a championship that we won, it was a game that we won, but it was the meaning of it.”
On Monday, every groggy student shuffling through the metal detectors at the front door of the nation’s first public high school was greeted by math and science program director Jerleen John’s bubbly disposition.
“Good morning, happy football win day!” she repeated to nearly every bleary-eyed student.
“It feels good that they are acknowledging it,” wide receiver Ruben Pena-Sanchez said. “It was a big win and it’s good to acknowledge that our team was part of history.”
With 14 seconds to play in the 127th edition of the English-Latin game, Releford took a lateral pass from junior Emmanuel Almonte and tossed a 38-yard reception to senior Jerome Penn that put English on the 7-yard-line with 3 seconds to go. Then, with no time left on the clock, Almonte scrambled to his left for what seemed like a lifetime before finding Releford open just inside the goal line.
Almonte, who also stopped a Latin 2-point conversion try on defense, said there wasn't even time to call a play before the game-winning TD.
“In the heat of the moment, we’re running down, we’re getting the ball set, and I’m looking over to the coach for what to do,” the game’s MVP said. “It just happened honestly. I hiked the ball, two seconds left. It was like, get it off and do what you have to do. Like elementary school.
“The defensive end forced me to roll out. [Releford] was on the outside to the left and I had protection set up to the right. I was rolling out. [The defensive end] was chasing me and I saw the sideline and I was like ‘I have to get it off eventually’ and right before the sideline, the corner that was on [Releford] backed up a little bit and I just threw it at his chest and he caught it.”
The 16-year-old junior, who last played football two years ago for a Pop Warner team because he transferred from a charter school that didn’t have a football team, was speaking from the school’s front office, where the game ball and trophy from the US Marines Great American Rivalry Series sat on the receptionist's desk. Presumably, they will join the trophy and game ball from the 1997 Thanksgiving victory in the trophy case across the hall.
“It’s kind of crazy because if you look at the trophies, all of them are from before I was born,” Almonte said. “So to see that and have our ball and trophy be in there, it’s probably not going to hit me until I’m an adult and come back and visit. I’ll see it there.”
On Monday, Releford sported a T-shirt from the Great American Rivalry Series and a matching hat that he was hard-pressed to fit over the Afro shooting out of a bandana tied around his forehead.
“Dejour, I’m so proud of you,” senior Janea Williams said seconds after Releford pushed open the door to Room 331 for his first-period forensic science class.
“He’s the one who got the last catch for the win,” Williams told her classmates.
The science teacher, Jenelle Corey, said she watched the game-winning play unfold while standing next to Releford’s father.
“How did you know it was my dad?” Releford asked.
“I was standing next to him the whole time talking about you,” she said.
Releford, who sat out part of last season with academic issues but now has a 2.4 GPA, talked about the Latin game with classmates a few times during class but concentrated during the lesson, in which students had to use forensic evidence to figure out who stole a crown during a hypothetical home burglary.
Using a MacBook issued to each student for the duration of the period, Releford used a website that showed different tire tracks and shoe prints to help solve the mystery.
“I don’t know why somebody has a crown in their house,” Releford said.
When the bell rang at 8:20 a.m., Releford descended into the hallway, where he was immediately swarmed by students slapping his back and smiling from ear-to-ear.
Releford flashed a few of his own smiles but mostly remained humble, even when he turned the corner to another hallway and students broke out into applause.
He made his way to the stairwell and up to the fourth floor before entering Room 451 for his English class.
“Come in, come in, congrats," said the teacher. "That was the most exciting 10 minutes of my life. Were you just pumped?”
The teacher started to settle students to start class before Releford could answer.
“Dejour, that might not be a good place to sit. Shhh. We’re starting class.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.