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York football player tried to save his dad with CPR. Then he just ‘made him proud’

York Comprehensive High School senior Danny Warren played football one day after his father, “Big Dan” Warren, died. The teenager tried to resuscitate his father after calling 911 but was unable to revive him.
York Comprehensive High School senior Danny Warren played football one day after his father, “Big Dan” Warren, died. The teenager tried to resuscitate his father after calling 911 but was unable to revive him. tkimball@heraldonline.com

Panic hit Danny Warren like a bucket of ice water.

Usually, when he came home from football practice, he’d find his father resting in bed and hear the familiar “Hey!” each time he walked in the door.

On Oct. 13, there was only silence.

“Big Dan” Warren, who towered over most everyone at 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, lay still in his bedroom. His face was pale.

“I threw my jersey down and tried not to freak out,” said Danny, who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his father until authorities reached the home.

“The worst part was, when I was doing it, I could hear a little gurgle every time I tried to give him a breath. I’ve lost my appetite ever since then.”

By the time emergency responders reached his house, Danny had tried everything to help.

I could hear a little gurgle every time I tried to give him a breath. I’ve lost my appetite ever since then.

York’s Danny Warren, who lost his father “Big Dan” Thursday evening

“Big Dan,” a former firefighter and training officer with the York Fire Department, was pronounced dead 6:16 p.m. last Thursday, Oct. 13. The York County Coroner’s Office is awaiting toxicology and medical records to confirm an exact cause of death.

Danny was in a state of shock at his father’s death. Slowly, the news trickled out to his coaches and teammates with the York Comprehensive High Cougars football team.

Hours earlier, Danny had enjoyed a team meal with his closest friends. The next morning, he woke up hoping that it was all just a horrible nightmare.

“I got the call later that night,” said York football coach Bobby Carroll. “Me and several of the coaches went over there to try to console the family. But you just can’t. It’s just a tragedy and Danny Warren might be one of the finest young men on this earth.”

‘We’ll keep fighting’

Danny Warren, an offensive lineman for the YCHS Cougars, was under no obligation to play the following night – certainly no coach was going to push him one way or the other.

But Danny said he needed normalcy: He didn’t want people to treat him differently in school the next morning or talk about him in hushed tones.

He rushed through school and suited up for York’s game against Westwood, still feeling sick to his stomach.

It started to hit me that he wouldn’t be up in the stands, watching me. It was hard to keep level, emotionally.

Danny Warren, senior offensive lineman with York Comprehensive High football team

“I had to step out of the fieldhouse a few times, just because it started to hit me that he wouldn’t be up in the stands, watching me,” said Danny. “It was hard to keep level, emotionally.”

Death is harder on the living than it is for those who pass away, Carroll said. The longtime coach said he told Danny the story of his own father’s death: long and drawn-out from leukemia. Carroll told Danny he wouldn’t have wanted that for Big Dan.

“The thing about dying is the people that are left on earth,” said Carroll. “They have all these worries. ... (Danny’s) a strong, young man, and we’ll keep fighting with him.”

‘It’s what he would have wanted’

The York community rallied around Danny in his grief. A school secretary designed a helmet sticker decal reading “Big Dan” that the players would wear in the Westwood game.

They’ll continue to wear them for the rest of the season.

Danny doesn’t have too many memories of the game: It all felt like a blur to him. Carroll trusted his senior standout to play on both defense and offense.

Sean Victor, a York teammate and one of Warren’s closest friends since middle school, said the school came together as a unit to provide solidarity for the three-year starter.

“He’s basically like a brother for us, so it’s like losing your own dad,” said Victor. “We told him we were behind him in anything, told him we cared about him.”

Danny gutted his way out through the entire game. He made the final tackle for his team as the clock wound down. And finally, he broke down in tears.

On this way back to the sidelines, he pointed to the sky, as if he was celebrating personally with “Big Dan,” who was watching from the heavens.

Danny then provided the crucial snap to the field goal kicker for York to pull out a gritty 10-8 win.

“It’s what he would have wanted for me,” said Warren. “To play and not put my life on pause, and to go out and do the best I could do. I’m happy we won it for him.”

‘It’s just fitting’

When the final whistle blew, players from York and Westwood formed a circle at midfield to pray for Danny and his mother, Allison.

Carroll said it was a “true display of sportsmanship” for the team from Blythewood to come together and mourn for a student they didn’t know.

“It’s just fitting for what had happened,” Carroll said. “It was a touching moment to see. It was a touching moment for our football program.”

Danny – who is going to The Citadel later this fall to pursue a criminal justice degree with hopes of walking on to the school’s football team – said he didn’t just want to honor his dad. He wanted to honor a genuinely kind-hearted man.

It’s just fitting for what had happened. It was a touching moment to see.

Bobby Carroll, York’s head football coach

“Big Dan” was the man who cleaned up his church’s playground last month without telling a soul. He volunteered to help Carroll’s program in any way he could. And he ran for mayor of York to help serve his fellow townspeople.

“Big Dan” drew a packed house for Monday’s funeral at Liberty Baptist Church.

Danny is still struggling to come to grips with the tragedy. He’s eaten very little since last week, and rarely gets enough sleep.

But he hopes he made “Big Dan” proud, and that his dad is watching the Cougars play from up above.

“I hope I made him proud in the time he was here,” said Danny. “Everything I do, it’s because I know he cares about me.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

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