There is an expectation of enduring adversity when it comes to playing football. There will be ups and downs throughout a season, and teams look to certain players to lead their them through obstacles and uncertainty to success.
Nate Ford was one of those players for Maricopa High School.
Head coach Chris McDonald said Ford had “flawless character” and someone the team could rally around when times got tough. The Rams felt that adversity before the season even got started when Ford died in a car accident on August 21st.
“I’m extremely disappointed that we only had Nate for 16 years. The young man was going to do a lot of good in this world,” McDonald said.
Maricopa was left feeling like they were just punched in the gut. They had to pick up the pieces within the community and then somehow get back to playing football.
And that’s where they can still look to Ford’s leadership.
His presence is felt on the sideline: his helmet sits on the bench with “R.I.P. Nate” etched in orange above the facemask and messages from his teammates are in black sharpie surrounding the red Rams logo. Perched above the helmet sits a flag with 42, his number, and Ford’s name.
“He was a part of this team at a point in time,” quarterback Aaron Owens, who has known Ford since both of them were eighth graders, said. “But we don’t ever want to forget him. He’ll be on the sideline for the rest of the season, hopefully forever.”
With reminders of Ford on the sideline, the Rams are focused to honor their teammate by taking the field the way #42 would, and that’s with intensity, intelligence, and character.
“We don’t see it as a negative, we see it as a positive because Nate was a great presence and a positive person,” Maricopa athlete Johnny Johnson said. “We’re just going out and playing for him and that’s just our motivation this year.”
Just as the team did when he was in the middle of the huddle, the Rams are rallying around Ford again, winning their first two games in the 2015 season.
“I’m very proud of my kids for what they’ve accomplished in this short span and holding it together,” McDonald said with a horse voice and looking towards the sky.
“I know he’s looking down from up above, we all know that. He will be missed.”