After his Indiana team folded in the wake of his brother's death, Anthony Coleman joined a semi-pro team in Fulton County.
When the eighth grade social studies teacher and the small town police officer put football pads on these days, they do it with heavy hearts.
It's been less than three months since Anthony Coleman witnessed his brother Dave collapse and die on the football field at Springfield High School.
But Coleman, a Montpelier Junior High School teacher and semi-pro linebacker, firmly believes his brother would want him to keep playing.
"This is what he would want me to do," Coleman said while warming up for a game on July 21. "He would want me to continue playing and play in his honor. I want to let other guys know that things happen in life that you can't control and you have to continue what we do in our every day lives. This is something I want to continue to do."
On May 12, Coleman saw his brother Dave get blindsided on a block during an exhibition game. He struggled to get to his feet, collapsed, and died. The death of the 6-foot-1, 235-pound lineman from Napoleon was later ruled accidental from sudden cardiac arrest.
Anthony Coleman, a Montpelier Junior High School teacher, shares a laugh with his teammates on the Fulton County Bengals, a semi-pro team based in Delta, Ohio.
The 31-year-old truck driver and father of five young daughters died after the hit to his chest caused a disruption of his heartbeat.
Brian Robinson was also on the field with the Coleman brothers when the tragedy occurred. Both Robinson and Anthony Coleman said the hit was legal.
Robinson, who played football with Anthony Coleman at Patrick Henry High School, also made the difficult decision to continue playing.
Robinson, a police officer in Deshler, Ohio, is among more than 600 semipro football players that now take to the field wearing stickers featuring Dave Coleman's No. 58 uniform number.
"Anthony and I talked about it and I wasn't surprised he wanted to keep playing," Robinson said. "We've been around football for so long. Sometimes bad stuff happens. But Dave would want us to keep playing. He wouldn't want us to quit. This is what he would want us to do today. He would be out there playing in our honor."
The Colemans are among six brothers, and Dave was the oldest. Anthony Coleman, 27, said his parents and siblings don't fully understand his decision to keep playing.
"At first both parents we're kind of upset with what I decided to do," Coleman said. "But my mom came around first. I told her it was something I had to do. My dad is still kind of passive about it. He knows I am doing it. But he is not completely for it. Most of [the siblings] are OK with it. At first they thought it was a little early. So we took some time off.
"I told them someday I'm going to have kids and they're going to play football too. So it's either face it now or face it later."
But many of the Colemans' teammates on the Jay County Panthers were too emotionally devastated to continue. The team based in Portland, Ind. has disbanded.
"It hit a lot of them hard and they did not want to play anymore," Robinson said.
"They never really recovered from it," Coleman said.
But Coleman said he and a handful of others opted to join another team, the Fulton County Bengals based in Delta.
"About seven of them have followed me," Anthony Coleman said. "They're only playing because I'm playing. They followed me to this team. We're all friends. We've been playing together for four years."
The team plays in the Crossroads Football League.
It's full contact football played by NFL rules. The players don't get paid. In fact, they must pay for their own equipment and other expenses.
They come from all walks of life.
Some reached the college level, while others simply wanted to continue playing the sport they loved in high school.
Robinson, 27, is one who followed Coleman to the Bengals. But the Grand Rapids resident said convincing his wife, Allison, to allow him to continue was another matter.
"She was there also and saw it happen," Robinson said.
"We have a baby on the way any day now. That went in to her not wanting me to play. We don't get paid to do this so if we get hurt and miss work, we don't get paid.
"But I've been with Anthony through a lot. As long as he was playing I will be by his side."
Robinson emphasized that the risk of a similar tragedy occurring is miniscule.
"It's like if one of my parents got into a car accident and died," Robinson said. "It could happen to anyone. But you don't stop doing what you love because something like this happens. The risk of that happening is so small."
Coleman and Robinson also coach football. Coleman is a varsity assistant at Montpelier, while Robinson coaches the middle school team at Patrick Henry.
On July 21, Coleman was flying around the field looking to make a hit.
"I coach and play," Coleman said. "It's just neat playing with guys you don't know. You get a good network of friends. You have teammates that share the same passion."
Coleman said his family is holding up fairly well.
"It was tough on July 10, which was his 32nd birthday. That was rough," Coleman said. "But oddly enough it's brought our family a little bit closer because my brother's previous wife and his girlfriend that he had children with come over now. They hang out with the family by the pool and stuff. It's kind of eerie but maybe something good has come out of it."
Robinson said after the tragedy the semi-pro football community circled together. The Maumee-based Northwest Ohio Knights team also wears Dave Coleman's number. The Knights were the opponent on the day of the accident.
"It wasn't just our league that came together," Robinson said. "The week after it happened they decided to make decals. Teams from as far away as Arizona and Canada are wearing them.
"We are paying out of pocket to play the game. It's what we love to do. Just like Dave did. This shows how big a brotherhood this is. We all are out there doing this because we love it."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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