Nate Maki’s teammates would trade a hundred state titles to bring their friend back. They would give up a thousand spectacular football moments just to give Maki another hug, high-five and pat on the helmet.
That’s why Guyer coach John Walsh considered canceling Thursday night’s game. If a million wins couldn’t end the hurt of losing Maki, the senior fullback who died Saturday, what did one game mean?
For the Guyer players, it meant a chance to do something they loved in honor of someone they loved. The 35-14 victory over Colleyville Heritage was a three-hour change of focus from the shock of this week.
“He was my best friend and a great team player,” said senior receiver Tyler Smith, who scored the game’s first touchdown on a 3-yard run. “It’s going to be a long recovery process.
“In time, it’ll come.”
The win was a good first step for Guyer (1-1), the defending Class 4A Division I champions. Maki, who was killed in a shooting that the Montague County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating but said was probably accidental, was a big part of last year’s title run.
On Thursday, he was still a big part of the Wildcats. Fans wore blue shirts that displayed Maki’s name, number and “once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.” Balloons were released in his memory before the game. There was a video tribute, a moment of silence, and his jersey was carried by the Guyer captains to the pregame coin toss. Both teams wore stickers with Maki’s No. 33 on their helmets.
Once the game started, Guyer’s performance was about what you would expect from a team that practiced one time this week. The area’s top-ranked 4A team showed flashes of its ability against Heritage (0-2), but understandably, the Wildcats also were scattered at times.
Guyer senior quarterback Jerrod Heard rushed for 137 yards and threw two touchdowns, and running back D.J. Breedlove rushed for 87 yards and caught one of the TD passes. Three second-half touchdowns in a span of nine minutes ended the suspense in a game that had been tied 14-14. Guyer’s defense held Heritage to only 181 total yards.
It’s understandable why Guyer made uncharacteristic mistakes against Heritage, a 5A school that beat the Wildcats a year ago. For five days, Guyer’s players had been painfully absorbing the tragic loss of a teammate. They were sad, they were angry, and for the most part, they weren’t in a mood to play football.
And then on Thursday, their game-day preparation included attending Maki’s funeral.
For Guyer, it was a gut-wrenching week. It was a week when football, and the team’s quest to defend its championship, suddenly didn’t matter. But although no amount of wins would allow No. 33 to again run on to the field, Maki’s teammates did the only thing they could do Thursday night.
They went out and won one.
“We did it for Nate,” said senior receiver/defensive back Logan Helal, who made the tackle on Heritage’s first two kickoff returns. “Every snap, every play, every moment, Nate was on my mind. I’ve never been so motivated.”
And now the team is motivated to move forward.
“We’ll never forget him,” Helal said, “but it’s time to move on. We’ve got a state championship to win for him.”