By RICK PETERSON
When Washburn University freshman tight end Ty Weber dropped to a knee in the Yager Stadium north end zone and then thrust his index finger towards the sky in last Saturday's MIAA game against Northeastern State, it probably just looked to the average football fan like a player celebrating his first collegiate touchdown.
It was so much more than that.
On Sept. 30, Weber and his Ichabod teammates were in Kearney, Neb. getting ready to play Nebraska-Kearney later that day when the former Washburn Rural football and baseball star got the life-altering news that his father, 55-year-old Billy Weber, had passed away suddenly in the early morning hours while visiting family in Seneca, Kan.
"My mom and my uncle and aunt, they drove up to Kearney to tell me and then our whole family spread out because they didn't want any of the (five) kids to find out over the phone,'' Weber said. "It's a terrible thing to find out, so they moved all around and my grandma and grandpa, they went and told my brother in Kansas City, and my sister's mom went and told her at her house in Topeka.''
Washburn coach Craig Schurig immediately gave Weber the option of sitting out that day's game against the Lopers, but the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder made the decision to play, beginning what will be a lifelong quest to honor his father.
"I talked to my mom to make sure she was in a good enough place that if I did play she would be alright,'' Weber said. "Then I thought about it and I said, 'The way my dad was and how he raised me, I think he would raise from the dead and come get me if I didn't play in that game.'
"I think it was something that I needed to do in that moment, in his honor.''
With his father always in his thoughts, Weber, who made the switch from his natural position of linebacker to become WU's starting tight end in the second game of his college career, continued to do his job on the football field, earning the respect of his teammates and coaches.
"He's a really good football player and a really good linebacker and when we had injuries at tight end we were like, 'He can fit the mold,' and he just did it,'' Schurig said. "He just jumped all-in, all about the team, and then worked his rear end off to get better. He ended up being a really good player at that position.
"With his dad passing, his attitude has been amazing. He played that game and came back the next week and you could just tell that the football field was kind of his sanctuary and that gave him relief.''
Weber said the fact that he's playing in his hometown and is so close to his family has helped him deal with the tough times.
"I'm grateful I came here because with everything that went on and the challenges we faced throughout the season I'm glad I was close to home so I can go home and support my mom and support the family and get support back,'' he said.
"There's really not a better place I could have went because I don't know if I would have been able to go through this situation and be the same way without being here.''
Weber is also quick to credit everyone associated with the Washburn program for their support.
"They've been great,'' Weber said. "They're my brothers, and the coaches, I look up to them, and for them to be there by my side, especially in that Kearney game when I found out the news, they just support me through everything and its given me an outlet to not have to think about it as much.
"They were always there for me and that really helped me.''
Playing a key role in that process has been Ichabod freshman quarterback and Weber's roommate, Sam Van Dyne, who also lost his father at an early age.
"He's been a rock,'' Weber said. "He's one of my best friends here and it's something that he also went through and I can always go to him and talk to him if I need something. He's always been by my side and always keeping me cheerful and keeping my up when I need it, and being my roommate, that's really been a blessing.''
"They have such a close bond and sharing similar tragedies probably bonds them even closer, and their families,'' Schurig said.
The two roommates shared the highly-emotional moment in last week's 45-14 win over Northeastern State when Van Dyne connected with Weber for a 4-yard TD with 13:37 left in the second quarter to put the Ichabods ahead to stay.
Weber had decided weeks ago that if and when he scored a touchdown he would pay tribute to his dad, and quickly followed through on that self-made promise after his TD catch.
"He played tight end in college (at Southwestern College) so I wanted to get him one and when I did I took a knee and I said, 'Thank you,' because I prayed before the game,'' Weber said. "I said, 'Hey Dad, this would be pretty cool if you could get me one. Whatever you can do to help me out,' and sure enough he got me one.''
Said Schurig: "Obviously, he and his dad shared a lot of football memories. They both just loved it, and I think he plays with a little extra passion because of that.''
Now Weber just wants to make sure he continues to be the person his father wanted him to be, both on and off the football field.
"After every high school football game he'd go play by play in the morning while I was still asleep and he'd grade every play,'' Weber said with a smile. "Actually I never got an A in high school, he never gave me one of those. He'd always gave me a B or what not, but it was something to always keep me pushing and keep me going. Even if I had a 20-tackle game, he'd say, 'You could have done better.'
"He's raised all of us kids right, the way they should be, and every day, now especially, I try to live in his image and try to do the things he would do and just honor him with every chance I can get. He's made me a better man, a better person and a better player, just by being in my life. And now that he's gone there's a hole but I think he will always be with me wherever I go.''