The rain that hit Charlotte on Friday night waited just long enough for West Charlotte High to honor Mo Collins, the Lions’ football coach who died Sunday at the age of 38.
Seconds after a halftime ceremony that included the release of 79 balloons in the colors of Collins’ three teams – 79 being the jersey number he wore in the maroon and gold of West Charlotte, the blue and orange of Florida and the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders – the skies opened up and lightning flashed.
“That’s Mo!” shouted a West Charlotte fan.
There was little about Friday’s game between West Charlotte and A.L. Brown that didn’t somehow connect to Collins, a former Lions All-America offensive lineman who was is in his first season as Lions coach. He had returned to his alma mater with not just the hopes of turning around a sagging football program, but to also make a difference in the community and with its young people.
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A large black Raiders shield was painted onto the field at the 50-yard line, incorporated into West Charlotte’s lion’s paw logo. “Raiders 79 – RIP Coach Mo.”
Fans from both the West Charlotte and A.L. Brown sides of the field did Florida’s “Gator Chomp” during the opening kickoff. Public address announcer Jermaine Gamble dropped in what he called “Mo Facts” at various times during the game. Example: Mo was the 23rd overall pick by the Raiders in the 1998 NFL draft.
West Charlotte athletics director Chris Satterfield said plans are in the works for West Charlotte’s football field and field house to be named in Collins’ honor. There were already banners with “Mo Collins Field” hung on fences surrounding the field Friday. Another banner read: Coach Mo Collins, May Your Legacy Live On.”
Satterfield also said there is interest in setting up scholarship funds for Collins’ children Carlin, 9, and Lawson, 7.
“The support from this community has been nothing but love,” said Satterfield. “My phone has not stopped ringing, texts, emails; people asking how they can help.”
Satterfield said T-shirts, helmet decals and food – even a shoulder brace for an injured player – have been donated.
Larry Kennedy, a friend and teammate of Collins’ in college and an assistant coach at South Mecklenburg, learned that 12 West Charlotte players didn’t have the proper clothes to wear to Saturday’s funeral. On Thursday, Kennedy rented a limo van for the players, picked them up at school Thursday and drove them to Northlake Mall, where he bought them dress shirts and pants, ties, belts and shoes.
Before the game, West Charlotte principal John Wall sat on a bench watching the Lions warm up.
“Mo had a three-to-five year plan, a vision” said Wall, who at halftime would read a proclamation saying Friday was Mo Collins Day at West Charlotte. “That was one of the things that impressed me about him. He wanted to upgrade the facilities, bring in some additional money and get some name recognition for the program. He wanted to see sustained excellence. But he knew it would be bringing it back one piece at a time.”
Several former Lions players attended Friday’s game to pay tribute to Collins.
“It was in Mo’s nature to come back,” said Ken Waldron, who is also an assistant coach. “Being a Lion was really important to him. He represented hope for those kids. Now they’re going to carry on what coach Mo wanted for them.”
The Lions, under interim coach Drew Hackett, trailed A.L. Brown 28-7 at halftime. When the rain hit, it was announced the game would be postponed until Monday.
Satterfield said there was never any consideration of canceling Friday’s game. It’s not what Collins would have wanted, he said.
“The guys had a good week of practice,” said Satterfield. “They were on an emotional roller coaster, but they were prepared.
“Coach Mo always told them to be prepared at all times, regardless of what happens.”
Langston Wertz Jr. contributed