ARLINGTON — As the Guyer Wildcats were on the field at AT&T Stadium celebrating their 31-14 win over San Antonio Northside Brennan on Friday night, a special chant broke out from the visitors’ side of the stadium.
It then carried on to the field and was quickly picked up by the now two-time defending Class 4A Division I state champions.
“State for Nate! State for Nate!” rang out loudly in the midst of the celebration, and everyone knows why.
You see, last year’s starting fullback Nate Maki wasn’t able to defend the state title he won in 2012 with his teammates after he was killed in an accidental shooting on Labor Day weekend following the Wildcats’ season-opening loss to Cedar Hill.
But the Wildcats did everything they could to include him in their 2013 title run, right down to the darn-near unbelievable.
In the closing minutes of Friday’s game, with the game already well in hand, Maki’s former backfield mate did something special.
DJ Breedlove took a handoff from Jerrod Heard, broke through a hole the size of Texas and went up the gut of Brennan’s star-studded defense for a 33-yard touchdown run, an exclamation point of sorts on Guyer’s title defense run.
Thirty-three yards to ensure Maki, who wore No. 33, would be smiling down on his former teammates.
“For that to be a 33-yard touchdown at the end, Maki’s been on our hearts all week long,” Guyer head coach John Walsh said. “We’ve let him rest since that Colleyville Heritage game, but all week long we brought him back to us. For that touchdown to be 33 yards, that is extra special.”
That Heritage game was tough on the Wildcats.
Guyer had lost the previous Thursday in a hard-fought battle with Cedar Hill and wasn’t supposed to practice again until the following Monday, which led up to another Thursday game against the Panthers.
Maki was killed late that Saturday night on Aug. 31, and the team was gathered up at the school by Sunday morning doing whatever they could to deal with the tragedy that hit too close to home.
They finally practiced on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday, but football was the furthest thing from their minds.
Of course, Guyer was flat in the beginning against the Panthers but quickly picked up its play and rolled to a 35-14 victory that was later forfeited for use of an ineligible player.
Walsh said the Heritage game and the week leading up to it were some of the toughest experiences he’s ever had in coaching.
“Against Colleyville, man, we were broken,” Walsh said. “Football meant nothing to us at that point. We didn’t start healing until after that game. The process of that tragedy, being broken and then healing all the way to the title game, we put Nathan back on our backs and in our hearts. This was a great way to finish the season.”
And there’s no doubt the Wildcats kept Maki close, even though Walsh distanced from it at times throughout the season. It wasn’t out of forgetfulness, but just a natural part of the grieving process.
There were subtle reminders. Maki’s helmet was on the bench at every game. Whenever roll was called before practice, Maki’s name was still called, and every player responded in unison, “Here.”
On Friday night in the visitor’s locker room at AT&T Stadium, Walsh made a decision to bring him back in a bigger way.
The only head coach Guyer has ever known, and now two-time state champion head coach, started with his pregame speech and quickly the subject turned to Maki, the guy his team had been playing for all season, whether they were public about it or not.
He couldn’t finish his speech.
“We got emotional,” Walsh said. “I wasn’t able to finish. There were a lot of teary eyes before the game.”
It could have possibly cost the Wildcats to come out in such a big game with anything but football on their minds, but Walsh wasn’t going to have it any other way.
“You gamble as a coach if you want to have your frame of mind right before you hit the field, but the only thing I wanted to be on our minds was remembering No. 33,” Walsh said. “There were lots of tears, and I’m talking about one minute before we came out.”
This time, the Wildcats didn’t come out flat. Instead, they stormed out of the gates and scored against the supposedly impenetrable wall otherwise known as the Brennan defense.
The rest was history, and it was all for Maki.
“I’m very excited with the way we all did this, especially the seniors, and mostly for Nate Maki,” Heard said. “It was mostly for Nate Maki.”
As for those “State for Nate” cheers in the midst of the deafening midfield celebration, Walsh didn’t hear them.
But then again, he didn’t need to.
“I didn’t hear it, but I couldn’t hear much,” Walsh said. “I’m sure it sounded great.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.