VHS, Villages united in grief

Mourners attend a memorial service Wednesday for Villages High School graduate and former football player Joe Machado at St. Paul Catholic Church in Leesburg. Machado died in a car accident last Friday.

“When I look out at all of you, I don’t even know what to say.”

Truthfully, Tayla Machado didn’t really have to say anything to the congregation gathered inside St. Paul Catholic Church on Wednesday night in Leesburg.

The size of the crowd present to pay their respects to her younger brother said it all.

More than 300 friends, family, teammates and loved ones gathered to celebrate the life and effervescent spirit of Joe Machado, a 2019 graduate of The Villages High School and a three-year starting linebacker on the Buffalo

football team.

Machado, who led VHS in tackles last season with 117, was one of two 18-year-olds killed — along with family friend Phillip Leslie — in a single-car crash last Friday night in Lake County.

“We’re able to get through this because of everyone’s kindness and ability to drop everything and be here for our family,” Tayla said. “It really does help us to be here and laughing, and also hearing everyone’s stories about my brother. Being able to hear the full 360 on him — seeing how many lives he touched — it’s been amazing.

“Through all of that and through prayer, that’s how we’re going to do this.”

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Machado is survived by his parents, Dawn and Joe, his older sister, Tayla, his paternal grandparents and a host of aunts, uncles and cousins.

“He was the light of our house,” Dawn Machado said. “He would always bring positivity to every situation and he would be the fun guy. He was always fun-loving and always joking around with everyone.”

Amid the relentless waves of grief and tearful embraces, friends and family shared stories of Machado to knife through the emotional air with the same humorous spirit he possessed. Anecdotes included Machado utilizing his older cousin, Kevin Machado, to imitate his father, Joe, on the telephone to get him out of a sticky situation as an adolescent, as well as his habit of checking his appearance often in a locker-room mirror before games — sometimes cutting it close to kickoff.

“Just looking out at everyone right now, there’s a lot of tears and a lot of sadness,” former teammate and fellow 2019 VHS graduate, Mario Lockhart said aloud. “But we all know if he was here, Joe would be able to find just one thing to say to make us all smile again … we all just know he would.”

Despite the solemn environment, many inside the church devoted themselves to flipping a somber night into a spiritual uplifting.

“In the short 18-year life that he had, he legit lived his best life,” Kevin said. “People would just repeat stuff that he would say all the time, because he was that funny. He was always the life of the party. If anybody had a problem with Joe, they most likely really had a problem with themselves.”

The 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound linebacker finished third all-time in tackles in program history, closing a stellar senior season by earning second-team All-State honors from the Florida High School Athletic Administration. Many who favored Machado’s hard-nosed, physical style of play paid their respects to the stalwart defender by donning Buffalo green and gold at the service on Wednesday night.

“It’s so good to see a sea of green and gold out here, just like it was on Friday nights to see Joe play football,” VHS head football coach Richard Pettus told the crowd. “He loved the game of football so much. Every single day I’m thankful that I had the privilege, but more importantly, the honor of being his football coach.”

A Mass of Christian burial for Machado will be celebrated beginning at 11 a.m. today at the church, before interment will take place at Lakeside Memory Gardens in Eustis.

“There’s really no words to express how I feel, there’s been so many up-and-down moments,” Dawn said. “But I can say that we’ve just been overwhelmed by the outpouring of caring and kindness from every person who Joe has touched. There’s been so many of them that we didn’t even know about.

“But I know that I still feel his spirit in my home,” Dawn continued, “and I feel it through the love of all the people who are surrounding us.”

Cody Hills is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5286, or cody.hills@thevillagesmedia.com.