As we kept winning, we could feel Daniel's presence, maybe because unusual things started happening. We came from behind in our state semifinal and in the final. We stopped Loyola in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-inches at our eight yard line, then iced the game by converting our own fourth-and-inches—on a quarterback sneak over a 290-pound defensive lineman who outweighed our center by 135 pounds. Our tailback, Eric Kostreva, played the game of his life, with 182 yards rushing. Eric transferred to Ishpeming last summer, and he asked to wear Daniel's jersey, number 11. He wasn't a starter at his old school, but Eric ended up being our conference player of the year, and like Daniel he was the best player on the field in the title game. He made that number 11 proud.
Without football to focus on, I know I'll miss Daniel even more. But I'll be O.K., because I know he's at peace now, and because his death is an opportunity to talk about anxiety and depression and suicide. Since Daniel died, many people have told me they were in the same dark hole my son was. They've thanked me for bringing these topics out in the open and encouraging them to get help.
Sometimes winning is about more than being the best on the field. My players gave me and my family the greatest gift: the chance to feel my son's presence again, and to raise awareness of something that thousands struggle with in silence every day. If his story helps those people find help, then Daniel is the champion he always wanted to be.