One year later, Sam Foltz lives on. In our healing hearts. In memories that are still so crystal clear.
One year later, I can still see the tears flowing down Mike Riley’s face as he left the church in Grand Island. Tommy Armstrong needing help out. So many grown men, reduced to putty.
That Golden Boy rifle. Meeting the Stepp family, from Wolbach, Nebraska, wearing the orange hunting vests they used to wear with Sam.
Week after week, Big Ten opponents presenting jerseys and personal tributes to NU players and Gerald and Jill Foltz. And the pain on the parents’ faces that said they would do anything to have their son back. Mostly, I’ll remember everything I found out about a young man that I didn’t know until he left.
And how I wished I could turn back time and hang out with that young man.
One year later, I was asked to put Sam’s impact into words. Truthfully, I don’t necessarily want to remember how he died.
I most certainly want to remember how he lived.
Good son. True friend. Loyal teammate. The fun-natured boy with a sense of values, humor and adventure, who could be from any small town, any city in Nebraska. The kid next door. The kid upstairs.
The kid we parents all hope to raise, the person Nebraskans aspire to see each day when they look in the mirror.
Sam entered our lives because he was a Husker. But it was the way he chased that dream, as a walk-on, and then humbly handled it once it came true, that snagged our hearts.
There’s a little Sam in all of us, or so we hope, and I think that helped pull the state together last year in the wake of his death.
Nebraska football does that, of course. Winning does that. But so does loss, great loss.
People rallied around the players, the coaches and each other. Nebraskans were there, week after week, to lend a shoulder as Gerald and Jill accepted well-wishes from Big Ten strangers.
The mountain of letters and love that the Foltz family received last year came from mostly total strangers, but in the end, it felt like one big family.
Along the way, as Illini and Buckeyes and Hawkeyes paid tribute, Huskers felt more like part of the Big Ten family, too. And don’t forget Oregon and Fresno State.
And while Husker fans can and will debate the direction of the program — with extreme nonstop passion — it felt like the state came together to give the Foltz family one big hug. And each other, too.
The last two games were a bummer. But in the end, if we learned anything from Sam, it was that there was something bigger going on than 9-4. There’s a power, a spirit, in Nebraska football. And that was most evident in 2016.
So where do we go from here?
These are great. Allow me to add an idea to the mix:
Foltz was a sportsman. He was an All-Nebraska boy, comfortable on the football fields and the hunting fields.
But it was the way Sam lived his life, too. He represented sportsmanship. The games were important but the friendships and the ideal that how you played were even more the thing.
By all accounts, Mike Sadler, the Michigan State punter and Sam’s friend who perished with him in that car crash, was the same sportsman.
I’d like to propose a trophy for future Nebraska-Michigan State games (knowing full well they aren’t played every year), named after Foltz and Sadler.
It will honor the two young men and what they stood for: Win or lose, friendships matter. Sportsmanship endures.
And I think it’s fitting for two programs that already have a healthy respect for each other — two programs brought closer together last year by tragedy.
One year later, the legacy of Sam is that in the end, these silly games are so meaningless.
But this sport we love, and the kids who play it, mean so much.
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Hundreds gather for the funeral of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, 22, of Greeley, Nebraska, at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Grand Island, Nebraska, on July 30, 2016. Foltz died in a car accident in Wisconsin on July 23.
A hand-drawn picture by Sam Foltz's cousin Billy Glesinger is on display during Foltz's funeral.
Sam Foltz's brother and parents bring Sam's ashes into the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Grand Island.
Kieron Williams kneels in prayer in front of a small memorial to Sam Foltz that was set up at the feet of the Tom Osborne-Brook Berringer statue.
A small memorial to Husker punter Sam Foltz was created at the Tom Osborne-Brook Berringer statue.
Zach Hannon, in blue, relates memories of his friend to the crowd at a prayer service for Husker punter Sam Foltz.
Graham Nabity prays for his friend at a prayer service for Husker punter Sam Foltz held around the Tom Osborne-Brook Berringer statue in front of the Memorial Stadium.
A Huskers themed windmill is photographed near a field of cattle at the intersection of Kildare Street and Emmet Ave., in Greeley, Nebraska, on Wednesday, Nov. 30. The ashes of Sam Foltz are buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery next to the tombstone that will one day mark the burial spot for his grandparents, Francis and Elaine Foltz still living in Greeley.
The grave site of the late Sam Foltz is photographed at the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Greeley, Nebraska.
The backside of the tombstone for Francis and Elaine Foltz, who are still living in Greeley, is seen at Sacred Heart Cemetery. The ashes of Sam Foltz are buried next to the tombstone that will one day mark the burial spot for his grandparents.
Nebraska's Sam Foltz was Big Ten Punter of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection last season as a junior.
Nebraska's Sam Foltz was injured against BYU in the 2015 season opener, but missed just one game and won Big Ten punter of the year honors.
NU's Sam Foltz lets a punt fly against Minnesota on Oct. 17, 2015.
NU's Sam Foltz waits for a snap on a field goal attempt during the game against Minnesota.
Sam Foltz was busy but effective during the October 2015 game at Illinois. The Husker junior averaged 46.9 yards for his nine punts.
Sam Foltz takes the field in Nebraska's alternative uniform before the 2014 game against Illinois in Lincoln.
Grand Island Senior High's Sam Foltz, left, is eyed by Millard West's Skyler Monaghan, who edged Foltz in the Class A 1600-meter relay during the 2012 State Track and Field Championships at Burke High School in Omaha. Foltz's team, which included Dylan Urias, Spencer Wichert and Will Bamesberger, finished second with a time of 3:19.7.
In this photograph Sam Foltz holds his niece, Preslee Perry, who is just a couple days old. She was born in July of 2016. Sam was killed in a car crash on July 23.
Sam Foltz, left, his brother Jordan Foltz, his sister, Betsy Foltz, and his sister Caroline Perry.
Sam Foltz graduated from Grand Island High School in 2012.
This is a photograph of Sam Foltz, left, and his sister Betsy Foltz, at the Capital One Bowl in 2013 in Orlando, Florida.
Sam Foltz is shown here following a sixth grade city league football game in Grand Island.
Sam Foltz was born Jan. 21, 1994, in Grand Island, Nebraska. Foltz is just a few months old in this photograph.
Sam Foltz at 11 months old. Sam was born Jan. 21, 1994, in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Sam Foltz, center, was the Grand Island High School homecoming king in 2011. To the far left is Husker teammate Ryker Fyfe.
Sam Foltz, center, at his senior prom. Foltz graduated from Grand Island High School in 2012.
Gerald Foltz is seen with his son, Sam, who was in the fourth grade, following a softball game.
Sam Foltz leads a 400-meter race during the Hershey Track Meet final. Jill Foltz, his mother, said Sam was either in the fourth or fifth grade.
Sam Foltz at 9 months old. Sam was born on Jan. 21, 1994, in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Sam Foltz is seen here with Grand Island football coach Jeff Tomlin during Foltz's senior year. Foltz graduated from Grand Island High School in 2012.
Sam Foltz is baptized in Greeley, Nebraska. Sam was born born Jan. 21, 1994, in Grand Island.
Jill Foltz, left, and her husband, Gerald, go through a handful of the hundreds of letters they received following the death of their son, Sam.