tampabay.com

A brief snapshot of a true teammate

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published January 29, 2006


There he was, sitting on the bench.

All alone.

Devastated and angry, Darren deRochemont pulled his helmet over his eyes to hide the tears, to mask the pain. Then he buried his head in his hands.

Moments earlier, deRochemont had missed a kick. Not just any kick, mind you, but a big one. And what made it all the more painful was this was the kind of kick that is just about routine for a player with deRochemont's talent.

An extra point.

With a chance to tie archrival Hillsborough late in the game, deRochemont's PAT got away. There would be no tie, no overtime, no chance for his Armwood squad to win.

deRochemont's teammates were shocked.

The fans were silent.

Then it happened. A simple deed. A grand gesture. A small pat on the back. A major confidence boost. A 10-second flash. An everlasting snapshot.

In this awkward moment, Josh Uhlarik knew what to say.

Many know by now that Uhlarik, a standout offensive lineman at Armwood, ended his own life last week. Like many tragedies of this nature, this one seems to have little meaning.

Uhlarik was likable. Handsome. Charming. Funny.

A junior who started all year for the Hawks and played particularly well down the stretch, he already was receiving letters from major college programs.

His future looked so bright.

What happened? None of us is likely to ever know. Truth be known, I barely knew Uhlarik but his death affected me. During the past week sleeping hasn't been easy. And to be honest, football hasn't seemed all that important.

For several days I tried to come up with the proper words to put his death into perspective. Quite frankly, I failed. So instead of overanalyzing things or trivializing his passing, I thought it might be best to tell of the night Uhlarik did something his coaches and teammates say symbolized the type of kid he was.

With deRochemont in misery, Uhlarik broke the ice. He approached his kicker, sat next to him and, showing the maturity of an adult, gave him the pep talk he desperately needed. "I just told him not to worry because I knew we would need him later in the season," Uhlarik said.

How right he turned out to be.

Almost three months to the day after deRochemont missed his kick against Hillsborough, he rescued his team by nailing three field goals - including a 35-yarder that proved to be the difference - in the Hawks' 23-21 come-from-behind playoff win over Winter Haven.

As an ecstatic deRochemont was interviewed by reporters after the game, I asked Uhlarik how he felt for his teammate.

"Great," he said. "I knew he could do it."

Two weeks later, Armwood played for the state final.

Did Uhlarik's pep talk make a difference? Obviously, none of us will ever know. But what we do know is this: It didn't hurt.

They say you learn more about a person's character in defeat than in victory and, well, I can't argue with that. In one athlete's moment of pain, Josh Uhlarik was the first on the scene. We should all have teammates like that.