MANATEE — Coach Doug Garrity would have been so proud of the huge team gathered to honor him Friday.
There were 900 strong, people from all walks of life, filling the pews at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church. The 27-year-old coach had known and adored them all.
There was his hero, former Bayshore High School, Auburn University and Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Robert “Pig” Goff, to deliver a powerful eulogy.
And sitting in the first few rows, there were “his guys,” the entire Braden River High School football team wearing their numbered game jerseys and dress slacks.
“It was a beautiful showing,” said church sacristan Don Supanich. “It showed me what kind of man Douglas was.”
All of them had been helped by Mr. Garrity, who died late Saturday when he was thrown from the back seat of a truck driven by Braden River High football coach Josh Hunter.
Kelly Kerns took off from work at Tropicana to be at the funeral. Her son, Kadin, 16, is a kicker on the Pirates football team.
“The boys loved him,” Kerns said. “He worked out right with them. My son said he was like a big brother.”
Kerns turned around in her pew and noticed Hunter enter the sanctuary. Hunter’s mother, father and other family members came, too.
“I’ve seen the boys circle around coach Hunter, but there’s nothing anyone can say to ease the pain,” Kerns said. “I hope he bounces back.”
Josh Weirich, 14, a freshman who was good enough to play varsity last year, typified the state of the football players.
“I’m kind of confused,” Weirich said before the Rev. James Cogan began the service. “I’ve never been to a funeral.”
Weirich, who lives in Greenfield Plantation, said he’s been known to get into a tight spot or two. He attended Mr. Garrity’s drop-out prevention classes at school, and the teacher kept him on course.
“I don’t think before I do things,” Weirich said. “Coach Garrity would help me. He was like a second dad in school. He was real funny. He told a lot of jokes.”
When Goff stepped to the pulpit, he spoke knowingly to the crowd.
First, he had everyone stand to give God a hand of praise, which resulted in loud and long applause. Then he had them give Mr. Garrity a hand, which was also loud and long. It seemed to wake up the sanctuary.
“Now I feel warm blood circulating,” Goff said. “Now I feel energy shooting through my body.”
In what was almost like a halftime rally speech, Goff told everyone that Douglas Garrity needs to be remembered as a role model.
“He was a team player,” Goff said. “He used everything he had to help motivate. Everything about him was positive. He had great character.
“You will remember Doug the rest of your lives,” he said. “Doug is still here for you. He’s here right now. He would want you to remember him when you encounter adversity.
“He had the heart of a lion. When he coached, he coached full with passion. He stood for making the right decision. You remember that. You build off that. You must remember this man.”
Then Goff turned to Hunter.
“Coach Hunter, Doug would want you to suck it up right now,” Goff said.
That generated fierce applause.
After it was over and the big crowd made its way to a reception on the grounds, Patrick Garrity, Doug’s brother, reflected on the funeral.
“Walking in today, behind my parents, I saw how many loved my brother,” Garrity said. “And that was amazing.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.