That willingness to throw down comes from, if not a noble place, an understandable one. When everything else in the world lets them down, the Blue Devils still have one another. Lammons distills that notion to these words: "I am my brother's keeper." The players distill it even further, repeatedly reminding one another, "We all we got."
This reflexive closing of ranks is the default response of a team whose coaches foster an us-against-the-world mentality. You saw it a week before the Muck Bowl, when Pahokee High was forced to forfeit two wins for using an academically ineligible player. And you see it before and after every practice, as the Blue Devils come together and send up a cheer—"Hey, Pooh!"—for a fallen teammate.
Hours after Pahokee's homecoming win over Jupiter High on Sept. 26, 2008, senior captain and linebacker Norman (Pooh) Griffith drove to Belle Glade for a dance sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club. "I was supposed to go with him," Buxton recalls, "but my girlfriend came over, and I wanted to spend time with her. Pooh was like, Don't worry about it. Just chill."
Griffith, a popular player with multiple Division I scholarship offers, was shot in the head and killed as he drove away from the dance. Police arrested two suspects. One of them, 17-year-old Willie Felton, was I.D.'d by three witnesses as the triggerman. Because of questions about their credibility, police were unable to build a case against Felton, who has since been released and will not face charges.
"A lot of people tried to make this a Belle Glade--Pahokee thing," says Lt. Michael Morris of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. "It wasn't." The suspects, he notes, "were not going to school. They weren't students."
Morris, a former Florida State offensive lineman, is the commander for PBCSO's District 13, encompassing the Muck. His wife, Melanie, is an assistant principal at Glades Central. In their spare time they take students on college tours, tutor them on Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test and help them fill out financial aid forms.
"You talk to some of these guys about their future and it's football, football, football," Morris says, shaking his head. "I'll ask them, 'What's your backup plan?' It's football. You know what I'd love to see? I'd love to see one of our players turn down a football scholarship to accept an academic scholarship."
Until that glorious day, boys in both towns will dream of making plays in the Muck Bowl. Buxton recalls playing tackle football in his backyard as a seven-year-old with Griffith and a half-dozen other Blue Devils--to-be. "Even when it would rain, hard, we'd keep on playing. We'd just yell to each other, 'It's the Muck Bowl!'"
In the real Muck Bowl on Nov. 14 Buxton came on a corner blitz on the first play of the game and nailed Glades Central quarterback L.J. Thomas 12 yards behind the line. Amped on adrenaline, Buxton blitzed again on second down, throwing Thomas for a 14-yard loss and giving the Raiders' youthful offensive line much to discuss in the huddle.
It was a portent of the carnival ride to come that, facing third-and-26, Thomas calmly picked up the first down with successive completions. (Both teams punt only in the direst emergencies.) A few plays later he hit 6'6", 215-pound junior Kelvin (Treetop) Benjamin on a slant pattern. Shedding a pair of defenders, Benjamin needed about four of his giant strides to reach the end zone.