MONROE — Outside of the visitors’ locker room at Jefferson High School, students, friends, family, and community members formed a massive human chain. Swathed in red, white, gray, and black, it seemed as if hundreds of people stretched from the school’s brick walls to the chain-link fence that surrounded the football field.
At first it felt like a typical Friday football night, but then the crowd hushed. The clicking of cleats against concrete grew steadily louder, and the Bedford football team began to file toward the stadium.
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Colton Durbin’s family led the Kicking Mules onto the sanctuary of the lit playing field, a day after the youth died from injuries suffered in a car accident. His parents Mark and Mary Jo, and his sisters Alexa and Jenna, wearing red and white Bedford football jerseys, held each other and wiped tears away. Only the sniffles and gasps of young Durbin’s teammates and classmates echoed behind them.
Nick Amos, a senior running back, held up three fingers to signify the jersey number worn by his teammate, a senior defensive back. After the national anthem played inside the stadium, the entire student section in the bleachers held up three fingers also, a small gesture to commemorate their classmate’s sudden death.
On Thursday, the 17-year-old Durbin youth was taken off life support at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. Friday, the Kicking Mules returned to the football field, a place where young Durbin’s uncle, Roy Kettinger, said his nephew always found a safe harbor.
“He was a superstar to me, his whole life,” Mr. Kettinger said as he sat in the visitors stands at the school, his blue eyes glistening with tears. “For everybody else to recognize him now, it means so much. Seeing what’s happening here, I don’t know how to describe it. His football family here is awesome.”
As the Kicking Mules prepared to kick off, Collin Welch reflected upon a person whom he considered one of his closest friends.
“This,” he said, motioning to the packed stands, “means the world. Colton deserves nothing but the best. Everybody’s been trying to stay strong for Colton and his family.”
The Durbin youth died Thursday, a day after his car crashed into the back of a garbage truck on Samaria Road, east of Secor Road.
Monroe County Sheriff Dale Malone told The Blade on Friday that his office has not yet established the cause of the crash.
Dr. Maneesha Pandey, a Lucas County deputy coroner, performed the autopsy Friday and said preliminary results indicate that young Durbin died of multiple blunt-force injuries. Official results are pending toxicology tests that may take several weeks.
It’s the second time in a month that the community has recognized the death of a student at a Friday night football game. At Bedford’s homecoming game on Oct. 4, many of the students wore blue T-shirts emblazoned with the letter K, in honor of Kelsey Koepfler, a freshman who died after she was hit by a minivan while walking home along Whiteford Center Road.
Payton Henry, a junior at Bedford, said her school wasn’t prepared for the first death of a student. The second time, she said, “makes this so much worse.”
Young Henry’s friend, Bailey Sharp, wiped tears from her eyes as she recalled the goofy, generous spirit of Colton Durbin.
“He would stop to help anyone,” she said. “He loved to help people.”
High schools in the Toledo area and in southeast Michigan found ways to commemorate young Durbin. Young Welch said Whitmer’s football team wore stickers that read “CD3.” At Northview High School, where Southview hosted Napoleon, officials held a moment of silence before kickoff in his honor. At Perrysburg, students wore red bandannas and red accessories.
Many more sent online condolences, including University of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who posted messages Thursday afternoon on his Twitter account in honor of young Durbin and another after Mr. Gardner learned of the teen’s death.
“Thoughts & prayers go out to Colton Durbin’s family and the students and faculty at Bedford for the loss of their brother and friend! #CD3"
At Jefferson High, the announcer held a moment of silence for the teen and announced him as the Kicking Mules’ honorary starter.
In the stands, his uncle believed the Friday football game was a source of comfort for his sister and her family.
“Being here, this feels like your duty,” Mr. Kettinger said. “You don’t want to do this when the time comes, but you find the strength, the energy, and the will to find out what has to be done.”
As he brushed the cuff of his letter jacket against his cheek to wipe away tears, the Welch youth straightened up and looked out at the football field, then looked at a group of his classmates, who held a long embrace.
“Tell your friends you love them,” he said. “Tell them now. You never know when they’re gone.”
Visitation for Colton Durbin is set for Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. at Urbanski’s Bedford Funeral Chapel on Lewis Avenue in Temperance. A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Urbanski’s Bedford Funeral Chapel, followed by a burial at Bedford Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Lewis Avenue in Temperance.
Blade staff writers Mike Sigov, Mark Monroe, and Matt Thompson contributed to this report.