Once an Apache, always an Apache.
Gonzales High School Principal Michael Garcia is credited with that slogan. Whether he originally came up with it or not doesn’t quite matter. What matters is that phrase is an important one for the Gonzales ISD athletic program as it highlights the bond former athletes have with the school and the current coaching staff.
This football season, there’s another phrase that’s become popular for the team.
Apache fans may have noticed Gonzales football players wearing a black sleeve. You may have even seen the video on Facebook.
Harvey Jefferson “Pete” Wilkerson, 57, of Gonzales, passed away on May 10, 2018. He is survived by his wife, Leann Wilkerson, and his sons Clayton Wilkerson (former Gonzales Apache football player and drum major, Class of 2016) and Trent Wilkerson, current Apache football player, Class of 2019.
Soon after Pete’s death, Trent’s friend Cameron Mileham, who plays as an offensive lineman for the Apaches, knew he had to do something to honor him.
“Every year of high school I always had Pete there to watch my games,” Mileham said. “Me and Trent have been good friends for almost six or seven years and Pete’s been like a second dad to me. As soon as I heard what happened, all I can think about was football season and how devastating it would be for Trent. I always look at the stands and we can always hear Pete. I wanted to make something where people could wear it to the game and remember Pete and I wanted something that me and Trent and the team can wear to remember Pete.”
That’s when he came up with the black sleeve and the phrase #PlayForPete.
“I was surprised,” Leann said of the sleeves. “It was supposed to be a surprise for me, but someone said it in front of me that wasn’t supposed to. I’m glad I learned about it though because they were going to just take orders from the kids that wanted them. I said, ‘no, if somebody is going to have them, the whole team needs them.’ So I stepped up and said Boomers would buy the sleeves for everybody.”
With the support of Leann as well as the Apache coaching staff, Mileham was able to present the sleeves to his fellow Apaches.
“I want to be able to wear this and represent him all year,” the senior offensive lineman told his teammates. “I would love for y’all to take one of these and wear it all year and represent for Pete and play for Pete.”
Trent had no clue his friend was doing this. As a matter of fact, he found out that same day Mileham presented the sleeves.
“It kind of caught me by surprise,” he said. “ I was in silence. I couldn’t say anything. Especially in that moment, it was kind of really personal. It was kind of hard. Good support is something we have. I think that was a good thing. Good support.”
Trent Wilkerson is a senior defensive lineman who causes havoc to opposing offenses. If it wasn’t for Trent playing on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, Apache fans of past wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between his playing style and his father’s.
“I look at Trent and I see Pete,” said John Henry Wilkerson, one of Pete’s brothers. “Trent has the same mannerisms and attitude that Pete had.”
“Let me tell you this: Pete was one tough son-of-a-gun,” said Harlan Wilkerson, another brother of Pete. “He would run right over you every time. He wasn’t the flashy type of runner. But he had a heart of gold.”
Pete was known for his aggression as a big running back for the Apaches.
“[Old teammates] come up to me and say, ‘he’s a bad A’, ‘he ran over everybody,’ ‘he’s the best running back I’ve ever seen come out of Gonzales,’” Trent said of stories he’s heard about his father.
If there’s one characteristic of Pete that you can point to and see in Trent is his passion for Gonzales and the Apaches program.
“It didn’t take long to figure out who Trent Wilkerson was and his passion for this game,” Gonzales Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Kodi Crane said. “I vividly remember seeing that passion as an eighth grader. It’s carried with him his entire high school career, no matter what we’re doing. He’s a kid if we’re having a flat practice, a coach will say ‘hey Trent, get them going.’ Because he has a passion and energy for what he’s doing.”
“I swear if you cut him open he bleeds orange,” Crane said of Trent.
The same could have been said for Pete during his playing days and even after as an avid supporter.
“[Trent] looks just like him,” Leann said. “And he has the heart that Pete had for sports. It’s all in. It’s not just partial, it’s all in.”
Trent quickly added that both he and his brother Clayton were raised into it.
“Since I can remember, we were always watching football,” Trent said. “Clayton was in football too. He loved football.”
“I just think we were brought up that way,” he added, “you know, brought up to if we were going to do something do it the right way and do it all out, don’t do it halfway.”
Trent shows it day in and day out that he’s all in. All for his home city, Gonzales.
“I love Gonzales,” he said. “Like my dad, I bleed orange. I hate Cuero. It’s just all about Gonzales and then pride. [Former Gonzales coach] Ryan Arellano said it best. He said, ‘The best feeling is to get to play for your home town and you have to have pride in winning. If you lose you don’t want to go out the next day because you’re disappointed in yourself, letting Gonzales down.’ I think that’s one of the biggest things, it’s Gonzales. I love playing in Gonzales.”
That passion is what gravitates many people to him. His willingness to give it all is just one of many reasons why it wouldn’t shock you to see someone quickly help Trent up if he’s ever knocked down, whether that’s physically or emotionally.
When Pete passed away, Trent needed someone to lean on for support and he immediately knew where to go to.
“Crane and [Defensive Coordinator Patrick] Walker, you know, without them being there I don’t think it would be … it would be more difficult without them,” Trent said. “They’re my family. I’ve known Walker for three years, four years now. [I’ve known] Crane since seventh grade. It’s a good bond, you know. It would be way more difficult if they weren’t there. They kind of eased a lot of the pain. The day it happened I went into Crane’s office and sat with him for hours. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
“It was comforting to see that support that people have for Trent’s dad,” Leann said. “He was a legacy for football. I mean he played every sport, it wasn’t just football. He went all out in every sport he did.”
And all out is what the coaching staff and the rest of the Apaches are doing for Trent, who has given his all to the program, just like his dad Pete did.
No matter what record the Apaches earn by the end of the season, Trent, with the simple gesture of a black sleeve, was reassured that he’s indeed part of a bigger family.
“I think I have one of the best support systems,” he said.
And as Garcia and Crane remind people every day, once an Apache, always an Apache.