Team first. Always. Last October, when a reporter asked Sam Foltz what he’d thought about understudy Tyson Broekemeier kicking tail in his absence, Nebraska’s punter wasn’t politically correct.
He was effusive.
“Oh, I was pumped for him,” Foltz told Omaha’s KETV. “If there’s one guy who deserves a chance like that, it’s Tyson. We never played each other (in high school) because I was Class A and he was Class B, but every single week, were always battling in the top punting (statistics) in the area. Because they did these stats, who were the top punters in the area, and me and Tyson were always like No. 1. We jumped each other, flip-flopped.
“In my mind, I always had a competition with him. In his mind, he’s probably thinking, ‘I’m a good quarterback, I don’t worry about that stuff,’ it’s just ‘I don’t care.’ But it’s great. Just to have two central Nebraska kids performing on the big stage, that’s cool.”
Foltz was beyond cool. Despite being the best damn punter in the Big Ten, he was unselfish to a fault. When the Nebraska football team needed a community representative, someone who wore his Big Red heart on his big red sleeve, the Grand Island, Neb., native turned up with a smile. Nebraska’s Sportsmanship Rally. The Lincoln Marathon. School is Cool Week.
— NebrFightingBack (@dkrosacker) July 18, 2016
When the smiles are that big, no lives are too small.
And on days like this — terrible, awful, soul-crushing days, when 150 characters don’t do a young man justice — funny how Foltz’s Twitter bio says everything, perfectly and succinctly:
Dream Big, Work Hard, Stay Humble
Foltz was killed in a car crash Saturday night in Merton, Wis., while attending a nearby kicking camp, an accident that also took the life of former Michigan State punter Michael Sadler and injured Colby Delahoussaye, a senior punter at LSU.
A prayer vigil for the Huskers senior was held Sunday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, as Nebraska players sang songs, prayed and grieved as one:
Among the lines delivered in prayer: “Lord, you spent your time on Sam.” pic.twitter.com/cU6AsFvDza
— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) July 24, 2016
They’re going to need time, too. Big Ten Media Days begin Monday morning in Chicago, a two-day celebration for players, coaches, administrators and fans in the shadow of McCormick Place. The Huskers announced Sunday that they won’t attend in deference to the news that tore their weekend — and hearts — to tiny little pieces.
Team first. Always.
It wasn’t just the right call.
It was the only call.
The last thing the Huskers need is to be reminded of who they just lost, of what they just lost, to be badgered at every turn. Media Days are a necessary evil, but they’re also a relentless peppering, the same conversation held with dozens of different reporters over a 12-hour period.
There are only so many ways to say I love you and I miss you and I’d give almost anything in this blasted universe to have you back.
Because they would.
All of them.
“Sam was universally loved and respected by everyone he touched and on whom he had a positive influence each and every day,” coach Mike Riley said in a statement released by the school Sunday. “His tragic loss is immeasurable to his family, his friends, his classmates, his teammates and his coaches and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them. The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward.”
Team first. Always.
“Along with Coach Riley,” athletic director Shawn Eichorst said via a university release, “our focus is on providing Sam’s family, teammates and friends with the critical support and love that they need at this time.”
As well they should. Because, really, that’s the best way, the truest way to honor No. 27: Giving unconditionally, loving unabashedly.
The only thing bigger than Foltz’s leg (44.2 yards per attempt) was his heart, a heart that earned him a slot on the 2016 Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne Citizenship teams. A heart that made it a point to always pay it forward:
— Sam Foltz (@samfoltz27) July 19, 2016
Dream big. Work hard. Stay humble. Now. Forever.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler