For the seniors in Cottonwood's football program, the Colts' miracle finish was just the start of the healing that's become far too necessary during their high school careers.
As they've discovered, not even an almost fictional ending of their 2010 season opener could permanently fix everything. That night, the Colts honored a man who never got to coach them in a game. They scored two touchdowns in the last three minutes of a 28-21 victory over Alta, returning a blocked field goal 90 yards and an interception 50 yards for scores in a stunning turnaround that made the players proud of their tribute to Teko Johnson, who had died a month earlier of a heart attack.
Yet before that team's sophomores could become seniors, they would have to deal with much more. A sequence of events in the past two months defies easy categorizing, except for the common outcome of having key coaches no longer working with them.
Offensive line coach Michael Gallegos, 39, a father of two young children, died Saturday when his car was struck from behind by a drunken driver, according to police. That followed last month's departures of head coach Josh Lyman and assistant coach Eric Eyre, stemming from separate off-field allegations.
Gallegos, who worked at Highland High School while coaching part-time at Cottonwood for a decade, was "a true football guy," known for his detailed scouting reports and loved by his linemen, said Scott Cate, who worked closely with him as Cottonwood's offensive coordinator.
Lives lost. Lives radically altered. Fortunately, or not, the Colts are accustomed to harsh reality by now. When upwards of 60 players gathered for Monday morning's workout, Cate addressed them for a few minutes, concluding, "You know what [Gallegos] would say."
"Get to work," a lineman responded, and the players climbed over the fence and ran onto the field.
"Nothing's fair in life," said Niva Kinikini, one of the linemen who will serve as Gallegos' pallbearers Wednesday. "You can't do anything about stuff like that. You've just got to keep moving. You can't stop, because you'll get left behind."
And then, more news came Monday afternoon. Granite School District's new policy will prevent boosters such as Cate from coaching.
Here in the media, this is the standard response: We'll lump these cases together with the convenient label of "adversity" faced by the 2012 Colts, turning this litany of incidents into a Cottonwood Curse that creates the backdrop of their season.
Yet there's so much more to all of this, so many layers of life that go beyond Friday nights. Cottonwood's broad challenge for new head coach Greg Croshaw (hired Monday), administrators, parents, teachers and the community is to restore trust, to steer these players away from the natural cynicism and bitterness.
They must sort it all out, amid "circumstances probably unique to these young men, that you wouldn't want to wish upon anybody else," said Alan Parrish, who only last week became Cottonwood's principal.
The players have responded admirably, so far. "In this world, life's all about changes and you have to battle through them," quarterback Cooper Bateman said. "Our team's done that, for the most part kept our mind on the ultimate goal, the season."
Of course, Bateman was saying that in the morning, before learning of Cate's situation that obviously affects him. Committed to Alabama as the most highly recruited football player in Utah prep history, Bateman will face another challenge of playing outside of the comfort of Cate's well-designed offensive scheme in his senior season.
When you drive past the campus on 13th East, the marquee flashes the time of day, with an apology that the display is off by an hour. Maybe someday, the clock will get back on schedule and some degree of normalcy will return to the school. For now, everything seems to be out of whack at Cottonwood, where the football players are having to become the steadying influences, showing the rest of us how to cope.
"These are mentally tough kids," Cate had marveled after the workout. "These kids have every right to not show up. â¦ They can say the world's against them."
To their credit, that's not what they're saying. They just intend to keep playing.
Cottonwood football timeline
July 21, 2010 • Teko Johnson, hired to replace Cecil Thomas, dies of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in New Jersey.
Aug. 20, 2010 • In interim coach Josh Lyman's first game, Cottonwood rallies from seven points down in the last three minutes to beat Alta 24-21, launching a 10-1 season. Lyman becomes the school's full-time coach.
April 18, 2012 • Lyman is placed on administrative leave during an investigation into alleged inappropriate contact with a female student; Lyman resigns May 30 with a 15-6 career record.
April 24, 2012 • Assistant coach Eric Eyre is placed on administrative leave after being charged with aggravated assault; his last day at the school is May 11.
May 16, 2012 • Quarterback Cooper Bateman, the most highly recruited player in Utah prep history, commits to Alabama for the 2013 season.
Saturday • Assistant coach Michael Gallegos is killed when his car is struck from behind by a drunken driver, according to police.
Monday • Greg Croshaw is hired as head coach; offensive coordinator Scott Cate is informed of a Granite School District policy prohibiting boosters from coaching.