The Lincoln Blue Tigers have more to play for this season than just a winning record. They will also play for a fallen teammate.
Gabriel Soto, a redshirt junior defensive back last season, was killed by stray gunfire May 25 during a nearby drive-by shooting while in his garage at his home in Los Angeles.
So now Lincoln will dedicate its season to him.
"We lost a great young man in Gabriel Soto," Lincoln head football coach Mike Jones said. "These guys want to play for him, because he didn't get an opportunity to play a game. These guys are playing for a winning season and playing for him."
A memorial service was held Wednesday at Jason Gym on Lincoln's campus, as more than 100 people gathered to remember Soto.
"It was heartfelt," Jones said. "Soto was a great young man. It was good because we have a lot of transfers in from East L.A. that knew him. I think we have nine guys from East L.A. that played junior-college football with him or played at the same place. They thanked us.
"It was a good thing for our players. Some of the guys that weren't here (last season) learned about him, and the ones that were here that weren't able to go to the funeral, they were able to honor him. It was a good event."
Soto's No. 33 jersey will be worn by a different Blue Tiger in all 11 games this season.
"Someone wears (No.) 33 in practice and then the player council decides who will wear the number the first game and then from there on," Jones said, acknowledging no selection has been made yet for Lincoln's season opener Sept. 5 at Lindenwood. "They make sure everybody knows how important it is and how important he was to us."
Running back Martee Tenner had the privilege of wearing No. 33 during Lincoln's first fall practice Thursday.
"(Soto) was a great kid," Jones said. "Regardless of what type of football player he was, he always had a smile on his face and he always gave you everything he had. He got a lot better from the time he got here. He was going to play for us this year."
Lincoln starting quarterback Jacob Morris remembered Soto as a model football player.
"He was a good friend of mine," he said. "He was probably one of the hardest workers on the team. Out of anybody on our team, out of the last three years I've been here, he probably had the most heart I've ever seen. He came out to practice each day with a smile on his face. He never really played like he had a chip on his shoulder, but he gave it all he had.
"I wouldn't say he was the most talented player we have out here or the fastest or the biggest, but you wouldn't have known it by watching him play out here. He was always flying around and just going 100 percent every play. We're goin