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Ben Smith

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Columbia City 34, Whitko 14

Injured player Sam Dailey honored as Player of the Game

Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Shirtless Columbia City students painted Sam Dailey’s number on their backs and sprinted onto the field during pregame ceremonies Friday at Columbia City.

T-shirts say it all for injured Eagle

Columbia City High School students wear T-shirts in support of Sam Dailey, a senior wide receiver/linebacker who was injured last week.

– What they think of the kid is everywhere on this football Friday in a town that loves its football Fridays.

It’s on the girls huddling beyond the end zone, talking about what girls talk about in their Friday huddles. It’s on the guys who join them, talking about what they talk about. It’s on the mom buying pizza slices for her three young children … and on one, two, three more girls … and on the little boy with hair the color of ripe wheat, walking away from you toward nowhere in particular.

Dailey 80 it says on the back of his gray T-shirt, in lime-green lettering. Did It For Dae-Dae, it says on the front.

“Looks like the whole town has rallied around,” you say to a woman standing behind a table, north and west of one end zone.

“Whole county,” she replies.

And then she says she’s sorry, she can’t say anymore, none of them can say anymore. The Cone of Silence has descended on this town that loves its football Fridays, and so you’ll hear nothing, officially, about what a fine young man Sam Dailey is, and what a crying shame it is what happened to him, and isn’t football a great game and a terrible game, too, sometimes, all at once.

Doesn’t matter. Those T-shirts say it all.

And what they don’t say, the Columbia City football team does.

On this steamy August night the Eagles laminate Whitko 34-14, and then gather at midfield to make Sam Dailey the Player of the Game. Senior wideout Wayne Smith holds up Dailey’s maroon No. 80 jersey, and everyone cheers.

The cheers say what the T-shirts say, which is that when one of yours goes down playing this great and terrible game, you lift him up as best you can, and so it is with Dailey. Last week at Warsaw the senior wide receiver/linebacker took a shot to the head that landed him on the critical list for awhile, and while he is in fair condition now, the scariness of it has not quite subsided.

And so, the T-shirts. And so, the woman at the gate wearing two maroon-and-gold buttons with Sam Dailey’s face on them, holding out a donations bucket with Sam Dailey’s face on it. And so the DID IT FOR DAE-DAE banner the Eagles come busting through as they thunder onto the field, and the other banner, good wishes scrawled all over it.

Get Well Soon, they say. Stay Strong, Bud. Feel Better Soon and Get Better, Sammy and, over here, just for a variety, a greeting in French: Allez Bon Courage, Day-Day.

Out there on the football field, meanwhile, the kids burst through the banner, and after a hiccup or two, Do It For Dae-Dae, beating Whitko 34-14. Travis Herbst finds Dayne Asplund alone behind the Whitko defense on Columbia City’s second possession, and the Eagles defense bows its back and shoves Whitko backward after the Wildcats get first-and-goal at the 6-inch line, and the tide turns in the Eagles’s favor.

Braden Myer horses it in from the 1 and 3 for two scores. Herbst scores on a keeper. It’s 28-0 before Whitko’s Tanner Hughes scores in the third quarter.

And now here comes Columbia City coach Randy Hudgins, pride and relief practically rolling off him in waves. “Very proud of them tonight,” he said of his team. “Like I said to them earlier, I was just impressed with how they handled this week. Obviously some sleepless nights, a lot of emotions tugging at them from different directions. But when it came down to it, they were able to get it done.

“It’s humbling to have a group of young men that are so resilient … but that’s the type of young people that we have here at Columbia City.”

No. 80 among them.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.