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Then I felt a gentle touch of someone’s hand on the top of my head. I looked up. There was Tyler Rathbun, squatting down next to me.
“We did everything we could,” he told me. “You should be proud of what we accomplished, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. No one has ever come this far. We’re the best team in the state no matter what anyone says”
I told him that I was going to miss everyone.
“We will all still hang out,” he said. “Look at the bright side, we still have our entire senior year together. We are going to live it up and kick it just like normal.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes. Tyler offered me his hand and lifted me to my feet.
Everytime Tyler stepped onto a soccer field, he was the single greatest talent out there. If a pass was off its mark, he could settle it and make it look like you blasted it at his chest on purpose. If you were under pressure, you could blindly kick the ball into the corner and he would somehow get to it and make it look like a dime through ball. If you needed a game-tying goal in the dying minutes of a game, he would miraculously find the back of the net.
On the field, he was the best teammate a guy could ask for. But more importantly, he was a friend. If you needed shoulder to lean on, he was there. If you needed a laugh, he could put a cramp into your side.
After our first loss to Olathe East our entire team was so disappointed. We were on the big stage in front of the biggest home crowd and we blew it. I went home that night and couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about what we could’ve changed, what I could’ve done better. I decided to text Tyler.
“Don’t worry man just keep trying to look at it as a good thing,” he responded. “Better than in the playoffs.”
That was typical Tyler. Always looking at the positives.
Toward the end of the season, Tyler was undoubtedly going to break coach Kelly’s all time school scoring record. Finally on senior night, it came. Tyler ran toward the crowd and slid a good 10 feet on his knees in front of all the cheerleaders. The rest of the team piled on top of him, hugging him and laughing in joy.
Tyler had everyone talking that night, but he wouldn’t talk about himself. Instead, immediately after the game he thanked all of his teammates. He even thanked me for the less-than-legendary pass that he miraculously turned into a goal.
After our loss in the semi-finals I never had seen 23 young men so silent. As the bus rattled down the interstate and I couldn’t handle seeing my brothers looking so wounded. I glanced over at my companion next to me. It was Tyler. Even he looked broken and sad. I was bewildered. Where was his optimism?
Suddenly, Tyler looked at me and patted me on the back.
“We put up one hell of a fight,” he said.
There he was. That was the Tyler I knew. I smiled. He had a way of making everything feel okay. That was just the warmth of Tyler.
And then there was the goofy Tyler.
Tyler was the kind of guy that could make shagging balls at a freezing cold 8 a.m. C team game enjoyable. He could turn in morning road runs into an hour of laughter. He could keep you up all night at a soccer sleepover, just talking about life and memories.
Tyler could make playing PC games in his boxers cool, and then reenact characters from World of Warcraft at soccer without shame. He could make using 30 expletives in pregame speeches funny and pull off slicked back hair in 40 degree weather.
Tyler was the kind of guy that could make me laugh every time he greeted you, and make you cry the last time he said goodbye.
On November 25, 2012 I sat in a similar position as I did when we lost that final game– my face hanging down, my elbows on my knee, crying. But this time I wasn’t sitting on grass. This time, I wasn’t mourning over a game, or the end of career.
This time I was hunched over on a bench inside Hillcrest Covenant Church because that feeling of losing a brother I had a month ago had become a reality. Tyler Rathbun was gone forever, and he wasn’t there to offer me a hand.
At first I didn’t understand why. How could Tyler do this to us? How could he leave all the people on this world that cared for him so much? How could such a good, caring and nice person be taken from this world at such a young age?
Now, a few weeks after Tyler’s death I still don’t fully understand the death of my dear teammate. But what I do know is how much he affected others on his short time on earth. I never realized what one man could do in a short 17 years to the lives of so many people.
What I have realized is that I could keep Tyler alive by doing what he would do:
Offer those on the ground a hand, and lift them to their feet.
#RIPTR. Brothers Forever.