When Master Sgt. John Accurso watches his son, Jace Accurso, play football, it is usually from the stands.
On Friday, Accurso was at midfield performing the opening coin toss in Jace and Peoria Liberty’s game against Leland High School from San Jose.
John Accurso, who currently serves at Luke Air Force Base, was one of several members of the of the U.S. armed forces to attend what is being dubbed the inaugural Pat Tillman Classic.
“It’s awesome to be able to stand next to my son and smile at him and feel like a part of everything,” he said. “Just to be here and honor Pat Tillman’s legacy is something I couldn’t pass up on.”
The idea of a night for military appreciation has floated around Liberty coach Mark Smith’s mind for several years. When he saw that Leland, Tillman’s alma mater, was on the schedule this year, he knew the time was right.
“We had a special opportunity to get these two teams together,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be happier with how our administration put it together.”
Before kickoff, more than a dozen servicemen and women stood on the field and were honored by attendees of the game and members of the Arizona Cardinals organization.
“Up in the north Peoria area, there’s a real military footprint,” Accurso said “This is a top notch school, we’re lucky to live here.”
Both teams played in camouflage uniforms that had Tillman’s name printed on the back. The jerseys were raffled off after the game, with the proceeds going to the Pat Tillman Foundation.
Tillman graduated from Leland in 1994 and went on to play for Arizona State and the Cardinals. In 2001, Tillman joined the U.S. Army. In 2004, he was killed while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Members of the Tillman family attended the game but decided not to participate in the pregame ceremony.
As for the game, Liberty rolled Leland 56-7. Smith’s team controlled the entire game. Several wayward quick kicks from Leland gave Liberty good field position in the first half. Liberty kicker Kolter Nelson capitalized with two field goals, both longer than 35 yards.
The game was sealed at the end of the first half when defensive back Eli Pittman returned an interception for a touchdown. With the win, Liberty improves to 5-0 on the season.
After the game, Smith collected a copper football trophy, commemorating his team’s win. Liberty has Leland on the schedule next year, and Smith has high hopes for the future of the Pat Tillman Classic.
“We’re trying to build this thing to where we can get four high schools from the state of Arizona to play four out-of-state schools,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can do that at ASU or (State Farm) Stadium.”
Liberty (5-0) is off next week but goes on the road on Friday, Sept. 28, to take on Glendale Mountain Ridge.