Team delivers touching moment
Michigan commit Ferns, teammates help ease pain of freshman's loss
Michigan commit offers TD tribute
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Two days before Logan Thompson appeared in his first varsity football game, he knelt on the tiled floor in the master bathroom of his parents' house picking up the fragments of the door he'd just beaten down with a baseball bat.
His father, Paul, had been on the opposite side, unconscious after suffering a stroke the morning of Oct. 3 as Logan and his younger brothers -- Landen, 13, and Lancen, 8 -- got ready for school.
The flashing lights took away his father. His younger brothers went to the homes of neighbors. His mother, Daniele, had left for the hospital. The house was eerily silent, and Thompson found himself alone.
"In that instant Logan stopped being a kid," Daniele said. "He made grown-up decisions. In the blink of an eye his world changed and he went from being an adolescent to a young man."
But before Logan could attend a visitation and a funeral, there was a football game he felt he needed to attend. His father would have wanted him to. It could've been like every other varsity football game for Logan, a long wait on the sidelines before shaking hands with players who actually played. But it wouldn't be like every other football game. For Logan, it would provide a moment of solace. For the Thompsons, it would provide some bit of light in the darkest of weeks. And for the St. Clairsville (Ohio) High School players, led by 2014 Michigan commit Michael Ferns, it would be an opportunity to show the meaning of the word "team."
Daniele's father had died when she was 15, but that happened after a six-year battle with cancer. She was able to say good-bye. Logan had unknowingly said good-bye the night before when he and his father had said good night.
So when Logan asked his mom whether it would be OK for him to go to school that day, she understood.
"He needed something to erase the image that he had in his head and I had in my head for him," Daniele said. "He needed normalcy."
Eyes swollen nearly shut from crying, Logan and Landen went to school. As Logan entered the gymnasium with the other students that morning, he promptly found Brett McLean, his teacher and varsity football coach.
"My dad is dead," Thompson said. "He died this morning."
McLean was stunned. Thompson was an outside linebacker on the freshman team. McLean hadn't gotten the opportunity yet to get to know him or his family.
The news slowly spread through St. Clairsville High School. McLean told a few of the teachers, but no one knew what to say. On the most atypical of days, Thompson sat through his freshman classes learning algebra and U.S. history as his father was being prepared for burial.
When the timing was right Thompson pulled aside his close friends and broke the news. He told one of his best friends, Brendan Ferns, who then told his older brother, Michael.
Michael knew Logan. Logan was at their house a lot, and Michael remembered he was the kid who wore Alabama gear to the Ferns' home at the beginning of the football season, when Ferns, now a Michigan commit, had invited over players to watch the Michigan-Alabama game.
"I don't know how that feels. I've never been through something along those lines," Michael said. "I just said to myself, 'If I was in his shoes what would I be doing right now.' ... So I just wanted to do what I could."
A day later, McLean sat in the team's meeting room with the coaching staff. Seven coaches tried to focus on Richmond (Ohio) Edison High School, their schemes, their tactics, their players. But the conversation kept coming back to Thompson and his father, Paul.
At St. Clairsville, every high school player -- freshman through varsity -- dresses for varsity games, and every coach from the seventh-grade team up stands on the sideline.
Thompson had shown up to the freshman practice the day before, and though he had never taken a varsity snap during his career he informed the coaching staff that he would be there the following night when the team boarded the bus for the game in Richmond.
McLean tried to talk him out of it, but there was no use.
"If my dad were still there, he would've wanted me to go," Thompson explained to McLean. "And even though he's not here, he'd want me to go. He wouldn't want me missing out."
So the coaching staff decided to do something for Thompson. The coaches approached the team's leaders and heavy hitters with a plan: Let's get Logan into the end zone Friday.
The first three quarters passed slowly as St. Clairsville took a hefty lead.
Thompson kept himself busy by talking with the other freshmen. But occasionally, when the conversations hit lulls, he thought of his father.
His dad had never played high school football, but he was Logan's biggest fan. The Thompson family was at every away game, Landen, Lancen and their friends piling into the family minivan, which the kids had aptly nicknamed "The Swagger Wagon."
But that night, as Daniele mourned the loss of her husband, she stayed home and let Landen travel to the game with a family friend.
With six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, opportunity struck. With Landen in the stands and Logan on the sideline, tucked behind a slew of reserves, Ferns broke past the line of scrimmage near midfield.
At that point, McLean didn't even bother watching the rest of the play.
"Thompson! Thompson!" he began screaming.
Thompson, like the rest of the freshmen, was following Ferns' progress and proceeding as far down the visiting team's sideline as is allowed.
The rest of the team started making its way down the field, too, cheering for Ferns as he closed in on six points, angling more and more toward the left sideline. And with just a yard between himself and the goal line ... Ferns stepped out of bounds.
The St. Clairsville fans, now on their feet, looked down at the field confused.
Was Ferns hurt? What was wrong? What was going on?
McLean grabbed Thompson's shoulders. McLean, who has two young children himself, tried to hold back the emotion as he saw the excitement in Thompson's face.
It was not the face of a fatherless child or a grieving son. This was Thompson's moment.
"You're going in at running back," McLean yelled. "Tell them to run 26 Power."
Thompson, a linebacker who only occasionally played wide receiver, looked blankly back at McLean.
"You know what," McLean said. "It's easy. Just follow Michael Ferns' big butt."
As Thompson took the field the fans' confusion only mounted.
Why had Ferns run out of bounds? Who was this new player? What was Coach McLean doing?
And when Thompson reached the pre-snap huddle, senior quarterback Dan Monteroso looked at him.
"What's the play call, Logan?" he asked.
"Follow Michael Ferns' big butt into the end zone," Thompson repeated.
On the 1-yard line the team lined up in a simple formation, and Edison prepared for a goal-line stand.
"I wanted him to get into the end zone so badly I almost went out there and blocked for him," McLean said.
The left side of the offensive line stonewalled any attempt by Edison's defense. Almost immediately a 5-yard gap opened between the right guard and tackle. Ferns led the way, blocking the middle linebacker as Thompson made his way across the goal line.
"It felt like slow motion," Thompson said. "I saw this humongous hole. I don't think our line has blocked that well this whole season."
There was still confusion as the fans and team celebrated the team's trip to the end zone. But slowly, that confusion turned to silence as people found out who he was, and the silence eventually turned to tears as they understood what they had witnessed.
"I said, 'Who in the world is No. 17?' I didn't even know the number," said Mike Ferns, Michael's father. "Then instantly it just spread, 'That's Logan Thompson.' You could see it coming out of people's mouths and then the tears came out. It may have been minutes but it felt like seconds that it spread."
The fans, once screaming for Ferns' 57-yard run, were now crying for Thompson's touchdown as he made his way back to the St. Clairsville sideline.
"I just looked into the sky," Logan said. "I just patted my chest and pointed straight to the stars. ... I was looking into the sky and I saw all the stars and I just knew he was looking down on me."
And as though anyone needed more affirmation of what they had just seen, "Touchdown, Logan Thompson," rang over the speaker system.
On the sidelines, Ferns found Thompson and hugged him. At one end zone St. Clairsville principal Walt Skaggs broke down. At the other, McLean walked away from his team to catch his breath and wipe his tears.
From the stands, Landen texted Daniele: "Mom, Logan scored a touchdown."
Thinking Landen was joking, Daniele called him back. As he told her the news, her cell phone began to beep with incoming texts and phone calls.
That night she stayed up for Logan as he got home from the game. For the first time in two days, only joy filled the Thompson household. Two days after Logan picked up the pieces of the broken bathroom door, he greeted his mother in the kitchen with a smile.
"He was doing this little dance back and forth saying, 'I scored my first tutty, I scored my first tutty,'" Daniele said. "In the worst of places that we were, it made everything OK."