Fear footballers push on despite loss of two players
by Staff Writer
MOORESVILLE – The Lake Norman Fear are playing the 2012 Gridiron Developmental Football League season with the idea that winning is not the only thing.
The Fear – a minor-league team made up of unpaid players from around the lake area – lost two team members due to tragic circumstances in less than a year: T.J. McKoy, a 23-year-old Mooresville native and Sanchez Brown, a 21-year-old Shelby native.
McKoy, a defensive back, was murdered in December 2011 and Brown – a defensive tackle – was killed in a motorcycle accident in late June.
“It’s cast a pall over our season,” Fear coach Quinn Martin said. “It teaches you that there’s more to life than winning or losing football games.
“The team has been in a bit of a funk. We’ve played every game but one close. But the guys have had a lot on their minds when they get on the field.”
Wide receiver Cody Locklear said the loss of McKoy – a friend who Locklear knew for eight years – hit him hard. So did Brown’s death.
“The Lord has his time to take people and I guess it was (their) time,” Locklear said. “It was devastating when we found out about both of them. I had seen them both pretty recently before I found out.”
Martin was in disbelief when he got the news
“It was like, ‘I saw that guy just a few hours or a few days ago,’” Martin said.
The third-year team holds just one official practice every week. Most players have full-time jobs, so they can’t drop everything and head to a practice field on a whim. The Fear have 7-on-7 drills another day, but until game days – which are Saturday nights – the players are rarely in contact with one another.
Unless they’re close friends.
“T.J. and I definitely were close,” Locklear said. “We’ve tried to use his memory and Sanchez’ memory to motivate us. We don’t want to go out and just act like every game is no big deal. They matter even more to us now.”
Lake Norman’s team breaks its huddles in practices and games with “1-2-3-TJ” or “1-2-3-Sanchez.”
Both players’ losses and the off-field grief they caused put the Fear in a difficult position when they were in games.
Lake Norman is 2-3 on the season after a 20-13 loss to the Iredell Warriors on July 7. The Fear finished 2-8 last year, then saw turnover in 60-70 percent of the team before 2012 began. Martin took the reins before the 2012 campaign started and worked to instill a new mind-set into the organization: to be more professional and more organized than any other minor-league team.
Martin has Fear players learn their plays and schemes on offense and defense. It may sound simple but some minor-league teams just show up and play, he said.
“With us there’s a learning curve now,” Martin said. “It’s harder. We’re trying to be a stopgap between high school and college football.”
Martin has a few rules he’s trying to get every Fear player who wants to play in college to understand.
“We want guys to understand that living the right way matters,” Martin said. “Treat your body (correctly). Be prepared. Learn the plays.”
Operating while trying to properly respect the memories of two fallen team members makes focusing on one’s own career more difficult.
Players wear a No. 32 sticker on their helmets to memorialize McKoy. Martin said the Fear are ordering No. 99 stickers to honor Brown as well.
“I feel like (the tributes) motivate us. T.J. and Sanchez are still with us and we think about them all the time. We’re playing for them and our team.
“It’s an inspiration.”