ROXBURY, Mass. -- On a still, chilly New England night, in the shadows of the monumental John Hancock Tower and the Whittier Street Projects, John D. O'Bryant assistant coach Mike Branch was running with the game ball after his team's 32-16 win over rival Jeremiah E. Burke. He wasn't re-enacting a play, but was in search of a Sharpie so that players, coaches and former teammates of the late Odin Lloyd could sign the game ball that they had presented to Lloyd's mom, Ursula Ward, after the game.
"One of the best feelings in the world is to see Odin's mom smile," said Branch, who coached Lloyd at O'Bryant and at the semipro Boston Bandits. "After everything that she has been through, her loss, court appearances, to see that lady smile, that's even more precious than the win for me today."
The 27-year-old Lloyd was found shot to death June 17 in an industrial park in North Attleborough, Mass., near the home of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and weapons charges in Lloyd's death and is being held without bail. Three others are facing charges in the case.
Shortly after Lloyd's death, Coach Branch and Burke head coach Byron Beamon, himself a former assistant at O'Bryant, talked about having a ceremony to honor Lloyd. Friday's event was a culmination of their planning with a noble purpose.
During the preseason, Beamon said the misfortune was a regular topic of talk among his team.
"'Watch the company you keep' was the main message at the end of every discussion," said Beamon. "Everyone is not your friend."
The Tigers won with a huge defensive performance. O'Bryant cheerleaders donned purple ribbons on their heads tonight with the number "82" in white emblazoned onto them in honor of Lloyd.
"Odin was looking down on us tonight," Branch said as he smiled wide. "Three defensive touchdowns, my little brother was looking down on us tonight. He would always say, 'Coach, let's get after it.'"
Rudy Christmas, 31, knew Lloyd from their days in the Tigers program. As a senior, Christmas saw an eighth-grade, junior varsity Lloyd full of youthful confidence. When Christmas came back as an assistant coach, he saw that the young bravado Lloyd had exhibited years before had become the confidence of a team leader.
"I would say that he was the heart and soul of the team," said Christmas. "He was the bronze of the team. Anytime we needed a big hit, I would be screaming his name because I knew that he would be the one to go stick his nose in the play and hit whoever was carrying the ball."
Omar Phillip, Lloyd's cousin, former Burke football player and Boston Bandit teammate, said, "He would be talking trash if he was here," and laughed.
"For real though," Phillip said, turning serious. "He would love to be here just because it was football. He loved the game."
Before the contest, the O'Bryant coaching staff and Beamon, also a former assistant at O'Bryant, presented Ward with a bouquet of flowers. The referees, as a token of their respect and compassion, gave her the coin she flipped to determine possession before the game.
"Being able to make Odin's mom smile and be happy was our main goal for this game," said O'Bryant senior Mekhi Williams. "Win or lose, there is more to life than just football. To make her smile today had a huge impact on all of us players."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.