Hempfield teammates form lasting bond in time of grieving
Sometimes sports do a heck of a lot more than just declare a winner and a loser.
As most football fans in the county are already aware of, Hempfield senior Nate Trimble offered his Week 1 starting spot to sophomore Evan Pritchard, whose father passed away last week.
Pritchard's father, Perry, was the assistant principal at Conestoga Valley High School and former Penn State football player.
The pre-game atmosphere was electric. The Knights were in front of their home crowd and as the team captains walked to midfield for the coin toss, Trimble and Pritchard walked together, arms interlocked.
From that night on, their friendship would never be the same.
"It was just amazing. For him to offer up his spot in the first game of his senior year was amazing," Pritchard said after the game. "It meant so much to me and my family and with the way the whole team came together, it was all just really amazing."
Pritchard started the first defensive series for the Knights but a three-and-out limited his snaps to just two.
"All I wanted was for him to get on that field," Trimble said. "In the first series, he only got about two plays but I told him at halftime that I'd get him back on that field and we did."
Deadlocked in a defensive struggle with reigning Section Two champion Lampeter-Strasburg, Hempfield eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter and built up a three touchdown lead.
Again, Pritchard's number was called.
With L-S driving down the field with under three minutes to play, Pritchard chased down Pioneers quarterback Collin Shank and recorded what some might call the most important tackle of the game.
"I was in the front row watching him. As soon as he made that sack, I could not hold it together. I was bawling my eyes out," Trimble said.
Hempfield ultimately walked off the field with a 41-21 victory but it wasn't a 1-0 record that the Black Knights players and coaching staff were rallying around in their post-game huddle.
After head coach Ron Zeiber spoke to his team, Pritchard led a "We are Penn State" chant with his teammates before signing off with Hempfield's signature "Black Knights We are one squad" hit.
"I'm just so proud of the guys for the way they stuck together and showed what they needed to show for a teammate," Zeiber said. "It's almost a lost art these days. You talk a lot about this stuff but it's just great to see it."
Zeiber also explained how Trimble's gesture was a learning point for his team.
"Character sometimes is what's done when nobody else is watching. What Nate decided to do was a characteristic of leadership," he said. "I think it's a big help to them, not only as a football team but as young men to see someone that is willing to give up that start, which is a big deal to kids this age."
As the healing process continues for Pritchard and his family, he can continue to take solace in his team, a support system that has already proved its strength.
"If I have a down day at school, I come here and just forget about it all while just playing the game I love, a game he (his father) loved and game we all love," Pritchard said.
He can also take comfort in knowing he made a bond with a friend that can never be broken.
"We play the same positions and we see each other a lot but we are so much closer," Pritchard said of his relationship with Trimble. "A senior and a sophomore don't usually interact much but I can't thank him enough. I'll never forget this."
Knowing that he made a difference in a teammate's life, Trimble shared Pritchard's feeling about the emotional night.
"It didn't matter how hard I worked in the offseason with waking up early and grinding as hard as I could. Seeing him out there on the field; it doesn't even compare. I'll never forget this moment."