Central Catholic’s football team is dealing with a deep emotional loss as it prepares for a much-anticipated season this week at Evergreen State College in Olympia.
The minds of many of the players and coaches are occupied by thoughts of Deante Strickland, a member of Central Catholic’s 2014 state title team who was shot to death Aug. 2 in Northeast Portland.
Strickland was the half-brother of Elijah Elliott, the Rams’ standout senior tailback, and as a college student-athlete, he was a role model for several players.
“It’s hit pretty close to home,” Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne said. “Elijah and the group of guys he runs with – Miles Jackson, Silas Starr – they’re pretty impacted by this whole thing. They’ve been right there in lockstep with him, being supportive.
“We’re getting through it. It hasn’t been easy.”
Strickland did not play football as a sophomore and junior at Central Catholic, opting to focus on basketball, but returned to the field as a senior and became a starting cornerback and kick returner.
“It was really like he never left,” Pyne said. “He was a pretty significant contributor to that 2014 team. He was such a magnetic, infectious personality. Always in a pretty good mood. He kept it kind of light, but he was also one of the most competitive, driven guys that we had.”
The 5-foot-9 Strickland went on to a college basketball career at Casper College (Wyo.) and Portland State. His basketball eligibility completed, he planned on playing football for Portland State this season.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Pyne said of Strickland’s plan. “I always thought he could contribute on the field at the next level. When he told me, it was kind of a shock.”
In preparing for the season, Strickland worked out at Central Catholic in July with several former Rams, including NFL players Ryan Nall and Brennan Scarlett and Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett. Pyne said he last saw Strickland at the school in the middle of July.
The news of Strickland’s death rocked the Central Catholic community. Pyne was participating in a school benefit golf tournament Aug. 2 when he received word.
“It was a rough weekend,” Pyne said. “I cried a bit. I was kind of in a funk the whole weekend.”
Pyne and other Central Catholic coaches visited Elliott at his home Aug. 3. The coach said that the team had “a good prayer session” before meeting for workouts Aug. 5.
The team plans to discuss ways to honor Strickland this season.
“I want to be sensitive to Elijah and what he wants to do,” Pyne said.
Elliott, who ran for a team-high 954 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018, has participated in all team activities as he gets ready for what could be a big senior season. He has a bundle of scholarship offers, including several Ivy League schools, all three military academies, Portland State, Montana and Montana State.
“We’re all kind of curious to see how Elijah and his buddies respond,” Pyne said. “Deante was a huge influence on Elijah in who he is and how he carries himself.”