The Ada Cougars take on the Cleveland Tigers Friday night in Ada for the second round of high school football playoffs. While the two teams are focused on winning, Cleveland is planning to bring a message of a different sort for their opponent. The Cleveland players will wear No. 56 stickers on their helmets as a gesture to honor an Ada defensive tackle killed Wednesday night in a motorcycle crash.
Eighteen-year-old Cody Johnson was a starter for both the Cougar football and baseball teams. Johnson lost his life Wednesday when he struck something in the road and crashed his bike just north of town. Authorities say he was wearing his helmet but died at the scene.
Chas Stallard, Cleveland's starting quarterback and captain, said the team learned about Johnson's death Thursday before practice. They gathered and prayed for Johnson's family, his team, and the community of Ada.
Later, they got together and discussed ways to show the team and town of Ada their support. They're also planning on bringing a banner mentioning Cody they will hang on the sidelines for the home crowd to see.
"You know, that's bigger than football, it goes beyond any competition we may have," Stallard said. "(We just want to) reach out to them the best we can. We can help them get through it. It's a game. It's something we can play in memory of him and honor him in that way. It's just a tough, tough situation."
For the players of Cleveland, the potential of losing a teammate is something already on their minds. Sophomore Walker Griffith is currently battling tissue cancer. When the team learned about Ada's loss, it served as a reminder that life sometimes throws unexpected curve balls. Even as an adult, Cleveland head coach Dale Anderson says it's difficult to understand.
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"I've struggled with this all morning long," Anderson said. "We've got a young man who has been battling cancer since May. As an adult, I've got kids of my own. You know, it's just gut wrenching for me to think about losing any of my kids. My football kids know that I treat them like my son. My heart, prayers go out to coach Weber and his staff; Cody's mom and dad and his family. Our hearts and prayers go out to them one-hundred and ten thousand percent. We'll do anything we can for them."
Ada's Athletic Director Mike Anderson said Johnson's loss has been hard on everyone. Wednesday night the community came together at the high school to console each other and remember their friend. Anderson described the 18-year-old as a popular kid who was well-liked by everyone from fellow students, to teachers, and coaches.
"He was just a big ol' teddy bear," Mike Anderson said. "He was someone everyone liked to be around."
It's a situation unfortunately that's all too familiar to the town of Ada. Eight years ago, almost to the day, the town lost another player by the name of Cody right before the same game, the second round of the playoffs. He died in a car crash.
Mike Anderson says tragedies like these hurt and are times when things get put into perspective for everyone. Cleveland's concern means a lot to the wounded community.
"It's incredible somebody at this stage in your season," Mike Anderson said. "With the relative importance of the football game, everything gets put into its proper place when something like this happens. I think the good in people come out. That's evidence of that. We've had the opportunity to visit with Coach Anderson and their athletic director, I have personally, and both of them have expressed their regrets and concerns for our kids and for Cody's family; and we really appreciate those gestures."
The other Ada tragedy was almost a decade ago and Anderson says he remembers what it was like for the community. The situation is similar and the reaction the same. While there's a new set of coaches, staff, and players today, there's still not a set of magic words that take away the grief felt by those who have lost.
However, gestures like Cleveland's help.
When he learned of the players' plans for Friday night, Anderson sat silent for a second. Then simply said, "Wow."