Colchester - Tucker Johns was at his father's memorial service the night before Saturday's St. Bernard/Norwich Tech co-op's football game.
Johns, like most of the team, was irate when head coach Scott Cook was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 5 and considered quitting.
Johns had ample reasons not to rejoin the team, but he couldn't leave his family.
"I wanted to be here today," Johns said. "It's just the family (aspect). Last night, I had my Dad's memorial (service), and every single one of the players on the team came to it.
"You don't leave family because of issues. You have to stay with the family."
The Saints were thumped by Bacon Academy Saturday, 42-0, but that was a secondary matter for them.
Saturday was the Saints' first game since they lost their head coach. They had dropped their equipment off at the door of St. Bernard athletic director Brendan Case when Cook broke the news and threatened to quit.
Johns said the majority of players returned.
"We're going through a really rough time right now," Johns, a Norwich Tech senior, said, "but our love for the game, the family aspect, (that) we all love each other, we had to come out here."
Freshman coach Bob Burnside was elevated to the status of interim coach. The first thing he told the players after he took over was to stick with the program.
"After the first day of protest and anger, they came to realize that they love the game," Burnside said. "They all love coach Cook, but they also love the game, and they're never going to get a chance to play it again.
"The first message I gave them the first day was, 'Hey, you guys can choose to quit. I choose not to quit because I love this game, and you never know when you won't be able to take part in it again. Play it like it's your last play."
The game was as ugly as the score shows for the Saints (0-4). Perhaps more so. They couldn't sustain drives and didn't tackle well enough. Tailback Garrett Boerenko was knocked out of the game in the first half. The Saints' frustration boiled over at times as they were hit with a few personal fouls.
"They've got a lot of character," Burnside said of his team. "It took everything they had not to turn this into a brawl because they're frustrated, they're angry, they're a lot of things. For the most part, they held it in and they stayed focused."
Sophomore Dan MacDonald was forced to become the Saints lead ball carrier and ran 20 times for 47 yards.
"I thought we did well," Johns said. "The score doesn't look like that, but we're not a team that goes out there and wins every game. But we go out there with the same heart every single game. I don't think we gave up today."
The Saints will have a few new additions, too. Burnside said that three students have decided to come out for the team and will join them after conditioning.
"I think I know what I've got, and I've got a lot of bright spots," Burnside said. "A lot of bright spots. We just need to find ways to feature those bright spots and stay positive."