The East Wake Warriors’ procession onto the field for their football season opener was particularly special.
It wasn’t because it was the start of another season for the sport that consumes our country from the late summer well into the winter – although the time of year does have chill-bump-inducing powers over avid pigskin followers.
It was more special than that for the many, like me, who thought a little deeper when they saw monster back Damontay Rhem break through the banner wielding East Wake’s battle sword. East Wake had the sword made last year with the No. 72 on its handle in honor of Jacob Spain, who passed away suddenly in May 2012.
Jacob would have been a senior lineman on the East Wake team this year. His jersey number has been retired to honor his junior and senior years with the football program.
With that in mind, it wasn’t much of a surprise to learn the Warriors had done a great deal of reflecting on Jacob prior to the game with South Johnston.
“We visited his grave again before pre-game and talked about sacrifice – he would do anything to help anybody – and what he meant to us in different areas,” East Wake coach John Poulnott said. “He was a great friend and a great Christian.”
Poulnott and his players talked about how Jacob was still young, like all the players are, when he passed away and “that you never know when you’re going to be called home.”
“We definitely want our kids to realize life is precious, and Jacob is an example of that in a lot of ways,” Poulnott said. “A lot of the kids loved him. He was all about pushing his teammates and being a great example.
“We feel like he’s there with us in the circle, and he would want his teammates to play full speed.”
If you missed the game, hopefully by now you’re getting a sense of the feeling in the air as the Warriors took the field.
They wore new jerseys for the game, which in my book is the equivalent of Sunday’s best as far as football goes. Their biggest, baddest running back, Rhem, was chosen to tote the sword for the first game after approaching Poulnott over the summer.
“(Rhem) talked to me about how we were going to show our love for Jacob,” Poulnott said. “Connor (Earp) and Sam (Marsh), and Nick (Sanders) as well. The guys I would have chosen as captains were the ones who have shown me commitment all summer long and came to me wanting to recognize Jacob. They go hand-in-hand.”
From next season onward, the No. 72 jersey will be a privilege East Wake offensive linemen will have to earn.
Poulnott said it will be awarded based largely on the character and commitment of the player – just a couple of the many traits Spain was known for by his peers.