By Dan Hardenbrook

I sat in the booth in agony Friday night. Watching from above the football field, trying to come up with something that would help them. I wanted this so bad for those kids, especially the seniors, who would soon walk off the field for the final time. I started to think about what I would say when I looked them in the eyes, knowing I couldn’t come up with the answers we needed. I felt like I let them down. I stared into those eyes and saw the tears streaming down their faces. In the end I thanked them for taking me on an incredible journey that I will never forget during a season in which I needed them as much as they needed me.

As I walked off I stopped and took one look back. Trying to capture that magic and those memories that they gave me, and all of us, this season. As I sat in the coaches office and thought back on what we had been through, some of the seniors came in and apologized for letting us down. I looked up in disbelief, and told them what I will remember most.

This is a group that overcame so much. And in the end, maybe they didn’t win. But that wasn’t what mattered to me. I told them I was proud of the season that they had, and everything they accomplished. But the thing that stood out to me wasn’t what they did…but how they did it.

This team, this group, this brotherhood, didn’t just win games and break records. It was about much more than wins and losses. This group did something far greater than any final score can show. This team changed the culture. For a football program, a school, and a community. They brought us back together in a time of need. And they did it TOGETHER.

That’s what I will remember most. Not the highlight reel plays, or the fancy stats. I will remember how they handled themselves in the face of everything they were up against. It wasn’t easy; and they had to dig deep. They had to put individual accomplishments and opportunities to the side for the greater good of the group. Class, dignity, honor. They lived the words that they sang after every contest. They were loyal to us all and to each other.

It’s a kid like Johnny Nutkins, who came back from near paralysis to play simply because he loved the game and his teammates.

It’s guys Like Liam Shanley, who stood up and put us on his back every single day, despite everything else he was being asked to do.

It’s Connor Rintamaki, who has matured before my eyes in a year, maybe more than any kid I’ve ever met.

There’s guys like Eric Edwards, who always find a way to make your day when you absolutely need it the most.

It’s someone like Keith Crewse who took all of this on in addition to another sport and never complained one bit and showed incredible growth in the first go around with this group.

I’ll remember how Kamen Honeysette and Wes Burkart came so far and got so much better with each opportunity.

Kids like Coleton Labadie, whose effort and attitude matched his speed. All Out!

It’s about my main man Connor Slaght, who always shared snacks and kept me encouraged on the days when practice was at its toughest. What I will remember most are kids like Jacob Brown, who will do whatever it takes to make us all better with no benefit for himself…on and off the field. I’m truly a better man for being around them all.

They may not be champions on the scoreboard or in a record book but their impact on this world will be far greater than what any trophy is worth. That’s what I will remember the most.