The Guyer football team would have had every excuse to lose on Thursday night and once again fall to 0-2 to start the season, like the Wildcats did last year before reeling off 14 straight wins en route to a state title.
Nate Maki was a big part of that team as the key lead blocker in a rushing attack that racked up more than 5,000 yards. If Guyer repeats this season, Maki will be a big part of it, but not in the same way.
The Wildcats attended Maki’s funeral on Thursday morning, along with more than 1,000 other people before changing out of their suits and putting on their “business suits” and going to work against Colleyville Heritage.
Guyer head coach John Walsh had strongly considered backing out of the game after Maki’s tragic shooting death late Saturday night, and it would’ve been completely understandable. After talking to some friends and mentors, including Coppell head coach Joe McBride, who went through a similar situation in the middle of last season, Walsh decided against it.
The scene on Thursday night at C.H. Collins was indescribable. The mood was, as well. The pregame ceremony to honor Maki and his family, who showed up to a football game the same day they said goodbye to their son, brother, boyfriend, etc., was a testament of fortitude itself.
The photo our David Minton took of Guyer’s captains, including Maki’s best friends, Logan Helal and Tyler Smith, carrying Maki’s No. 33 jersey out to the coin toss is one you should definitely check out if you haven’t already and is one that will stick in your mind for a long time — the emotion in Helal’s and Smith’s faces particularly apparent.
It was an unforgettable night, for all the right reasons, just as the day will be unforgettable for all of those kids, for the most tragic of reasons.
After the game, Helal found me on the field, shook my hand and told me with a big smile on his face, but a choked up voice, that he’d played that game for his friend. It was clear, too. Helal made the tackle on Guyer’s first two kickoffs of the game. Smith scored the game’s first touchdown lined up as the fullback (Maki’s position) instead of his usual inside receiver position. He ran for 3 yards, and then took off toward the stands to present Maki’s family with the ball. Everyone knew the significance of the play that Walsh had devised in Guyer’s lone practice of the week on Tuesday.
A loss on Thursday would’ve been understandable for Guyer, as Walsh had told me earlier in the week that he wasn’t even concerned with football or the evaluation of his team on game night. But Guyer responded on an emotional rollercoaster — very high to start, losing focus and intensity midway through, and then finishing on a high note, outscoring Heritage 21-0 to close the game.
You got the sense after that game was over that everyone on Guyer’s sideline was just happy to get the day over with and they’re ready to move on, just like Helal had told me earlier in the week that Maki would have wanted. After all, everything they did Thursday was for him.
“This week was hard,” Smith said. “It was a tough week. This morning we went to the service, and it was good closure. Everyone was a little bit better than we were before. Tonight, winning was obviously big. I mean, it was all for Nate, though. We all played our hearts out. We did it for him.”