Independence High junior Zach Hodges buried his mother Friday afternoon, and he wasn't sure he would play in the Patriots' 49-3 win against West Charlotte until about game time.
When Independence's team bus left Mint Hill late Friday afternoon, Hodges wasn't on it. He met his teammates at West Charlotte's field and told coach Tom Knotts he was ready to go.
“I just finally decided I wanted to play,” said Hodges, who had 31/2 tackles, starting at defensive end and playing special teams. “Me and my mom (Barbara Simpson), we gave up a lot for this.”
Simpson suffered a stroke last week and died. Hodges, an only child, lost his father to a brain tumor when he was 6 months old. Right now he's living with a neighbor.
Independence has created the Zach Hodges Trust Fund to help with expenses. Some area lawyers volunteered to create it, and interested parties can mail checks to the school, care of the fund. Patriots assistant coach Hal Brown, who has been in charge of it, said he'd been overwhelmed with phone calls pledging support Friday.
Knotts said he was overwhelmed, too – by Hodges' courage.
Knotts took his team's juniors to the funeral along with all the Patriots' linebackers and 12 junior varsity players.
“It was a tremendous act of courage for him to play,” Knotts said. “I couldn't have done it. To be honest, we didn't feel like being here until about 7 o'clock when the whistle blew. Me and (defensive coordinator Bill) Geiler were like, ‘How are we going to do this?' We were emotionally spent.”
On the field, Patriots quarterback Anthony Carrothers threw for 367 yards and receiver Lawrence Martin caught six passes for 211 yards and threw a 51-yard touchdown pass.
Independence made sure a tough day ended well for Hodges, who got plenty of handshakes and hugs post game.
“I thought I'd be ready for this game,” he said. “But when I started playing, I wasn't able to play as fully as I wanted. But as the game went on, I started playing better.
“I've been thinking all week about everything and I just started to play and I got excited about my teammates and we had fun and joked. It was a good experience for me.”
Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133; firstname.lastname@example.org