- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

FORSYTH, Mont. (AP) - The Colstrip Colts football team took the field in Forsyth about an hour before kickoff, sans helmets and shoulder pads. You could see smiles and hear jokes and laughs as offensive and defensive linemen ran routes and bobbled passes.

Fans began filtering in and circled the field. It felt like just another football Friday night in Montana.

The Colts retreated to the sidelines to don the rest of their game day gear. They ran out onto the field in formation and chanted “C-O-L-T-S” between a series of jumping jacks. Under the instruction of coach Bill Briggs, they stretched and ran through pregame drills.

But this wasn’t just another Friday night.

When the Colts lined up for the National Anthem, junior Jake Sessions and sophomore O’Shon Oldmouse clutched a white No. 22 jersey, letting it hang between them.

The jersey belonged to Dallen Walker, a teammate who was killed in a car crash six days earlier.

Less than 12 hours before his fatal crash, Walker had taken the field with his teammates against Huntley Project. He played wide receiver and defensive back, catching a touchdown in what would be his final game.

“If I was ever in trouble, I would always look for Dallen,” quarterback Lane Torgerson said. “The last touchdown he caught, I was just scrambling out of the pocket, and he was standing in the end zone. I knew he found that spot for a reason.”

That spot will honor Walker for the rest of the season. The school plans to paint a “22” where he made the catch.

The team will wear wrist bands and helmet decals to honor their fallen brother.

“You’re going to miss him as an athlete, you’re going to miss him as a student,” Briggs said. “But the reality is you’re going to miss him as a human being, and that’s the most important thing.”

Walker was a good athlete, both on the football field and in the basketball gym. But, more, he was a goofball kid with a big heart.

“He was pretty quiet around most people,” said Sessions, who was one of Walker’s best friends. “Once you gave him some trust, though, he was a good guy to be around.”

Rodney Studiner and Tritan Aberle, with Mikah Little Axe and Wyatt Anzalone flanking them, carried Walker’s jersey to midfield for the captains’ meeting and coin flip.

When they returned to the sidelines, Walker’s jersey was draped over a bench behind the team. It sat there - alone - for the duration of the game. No helmets, no players. Just the crisp white jersey resting on the worn wooden bench.

“We talked about putting his jersey on the sideline, carrying it out, having it with us the whole game,” Torgerson said. “We know he’s there with us on the sideline.”

Added Sessions: “It was kind of a reminder that we have an angel up there watching over us. He’s still a brother, even if he’s not here with us.”

The team chanted “22 … 22 … 22” in a huddle before running onto the field for the first kickoff without their teammate by their sides.

“It was just not right to not see him there,” Torgerson said.

The Colts lost the game 43-0, a small detail among the bigger picture.

When the final horn sounded, the teams shook hands and Forsyth coaches and players offered hugs and words of encouragement.

“I can’t imagine going through what they had to,” Forsyth senior Hunter Wester said. “Just being able to come out and play like they did is an amazing feat.”

After the postgame handshakes, the Colts gathered under the goalpost.

Tears streamed down faces. Players embraced. Coaches struggled to find the right words. A Forsyth mom wrapped Torgerson in a hug as he fought to prepare himself for the long walk to the locker room.

“They’ve been thinking about him a lot,” Briggs said. “He’ll be with us wherever we go. It’s a tough one, it’s a real tough one. I’m proud of the kids for doing what they’ve done, but still .”

The team began to walk off the field as heads hung low and gloved hands wiped away tears. Fans of both schools applauded the Colts as they left the field.

In that moment, there was no Colstrip green or Forsyth purple. The two communities, rivals separated by 35 miles, were one family.

“It still seems pretty unreal to all of us,” Sessions said. “It’s just hard expecting him to walk through that door. It’s just hard to remember that he’s not going to be there.”

Walking off the field, it was clear: This was anything but another Friday night.

___

Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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