OAKLAND (CBS SF) — There was so much more than just high school football returning to the Oakland gridirons on Saturday.

Four schools from the Oakland Athletic League played their first game on Saturday evening after the pandemic delayed their season by six months. Coaches said the game of football provides structure and mentors for the student athletes.

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“You just missed that afterschool practice,” said McClymonds High School varsity receiver Daveonne Sanders. “You missed the afterschool lift. You just missed being around your peers.

“It was real difficult, cause we used to see each other every day,” said McClymonds varsity defensive end Arrion Hughes, who lost five family members during the pandemic.

Without football and mentors, Hughes mom and dad worried he would join the wrong crowd.

“I really got emotional (watching him play) because I felt for a moment that my son was going to give up,” said Sequoia Hernandez, Hughes mother. “Because of the losses in our family and stuff, I just didn’t see no drive. And then all of a sudden, he just (surprised) me and said ‘Mom, alright, I’m going to do this.'”

NFL Baltimore Ravens’ cornerback Marcus Peters was also on the field coaching and mentoring the McClymonds players.

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“Feels like we’ve got our dad on the field,” said Sanders of all the coaches.

The head varsity football coach at Skyline, Joe Bates, said they are dedicating the season to 16-year-old Aaron Pryor. The football player was shot dead near his East Oakland home late last year.

“We’ve got a sticker on the back of our helmet and we’re playing for him this year,” Bates said.

Bates said a year of online learning and no after school programs hurt a lot of students.

“It was hard,” he said. “The grades started to decline. Some of them dropped out. Some of them got jobs and kind of stuck with that and forgot about school.”

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The league would like to play 5 games in the abbreviated season. To limit exposure, the teams will not play non-league games this season.