Stone Hill was the rock of a football player everyone wanted to be like. Nick Mankin had an eye for art and had just settled in after transferring to Red Lion.
Two years ago, the boys were drawn together. They played football and grew up in the same part of the Red Lion Area School District.
"They naturally gravitated to each other because they were at the southern end, and they rode together to practices," Red Lion football coach Jesse Shay said. "For that southern end, it's especially hard."
Friends and teammates, Hill and Mankin died Tuesday in a vehicle crash in the southern part of Lower Chanceford Township.
It still hadn't completely registered for three friends who stood over the side of the road staring at the utility pole decorated with items — a white jersey with No. 43 in green, worn by one of Hill's teammates on a junior high rec football team, stretched above black and yellow balloons along with other memorabilia.
"I feel like Stone's just going to text me tonight and say, 'Let's hang out,'" said Cody Heffner, 17 and a friend of Hill's since first grade.
Both talked about majoring in criminal justice once they went to college, but Hill was certain he would play football somewhere. If football didn't define him, his work ethic did, Heffner and friends Dylan Gurreri and Cody Stern said.
That's how Hill won the starting middle linebacker job as a sophomore during Shay's first season as coach.
"Geez, this kid looks the part," the coach remembered saying to himself.
A 6-foot-2, 220-pound 17-year-old, Hill also played baseball and wrestled. He gave up wrestling last winter to concentrate more on training for football, but Stern remembered he wanted to rejoin that team this winter. Stern last saw his friend a week ago when they drove to Maryland for a movie. Hill left a day later for a football camp at Duke University and just got back during the weekend.
He always said hello and made sure to give a goodbye, linebackers coach and biology teacher J.D. Granger said.
"Stone carried himself in a way that, one day, if I'm fortunate enough to have a son, he'd carry himself that way," Granger said.
Mankin was one of Shay's first students for social studies two falls ago. Both were starting fresh at Red Lion. Shay entered his first year as coach and teacher. Mankin just transferred from Susquehannock.
A 6-3, 210-pound lineman, Mankin would have been a second-year starter at offensive guard this fall. He bonded with Shay during regular lunch-break trips to his classroom this spring. There, they talked about more than football. Class, teachers and friends were a few of the topics.
Art was another, and Mankin didn't hesitate to ask out of a weight-lifting session to work on a class project. The coach obliged.
"There's kids who'd be afraid to ask that," Shay said. "He wasn't."
Mankin also asked for a ride last summer after a football practice, which cultivated his friendship with Gurreri. They went out for pizza.
"He just liked everything we liked," said Gurreri, 17 and a rising junior. "We said, 'You're good, you're staying with us.'"
They played football together, went fishing and ventured to the river just to hang out. Mankin laughed at Heffner for splitting his pants on the latter journey.
Hill once marched with Stern and another friend perched atop his back. Stern bragged that Hill only stopped because a third person tried to jump onto them.
The trio of friends and many others gravitated to the crash site Wednesday. Memories of Hill and Mankin stay with them.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
Terps lineman met Hill, Mankin
Andrew Zeller, a 2011 graduate of Red Lion Area High School and a senior starting offensive lineman for the University of Maryland, said he recently met Stone Hill and Nick Mankin, Red Lion football players who died in a crash Tuesday. He issued this statement through the university:
"While returning to Red Lion over winter and summer break this year I had the opportunity to briefly meet Stone Hill and Nick Mankin during their routine workouts and their first spring practice. Although I never got to know them personally, it is a terrible tragedy when an individual's life is taken too soon. The Red Lion football program is a very tight knit group and the life of a friend is irreplaceable, but I am sure the team will find (something) in this tragedy to better themselves as a team and as people to honor these young men."