Brady, killed in a car accident last April, is still big part of West G's boys soccer team
Patrick Brady should have been a senior on the West Geauga soccer team this year.
He should have been standing in his No. 23 uniform in the pregame lineup after hearing his name called by the public address announcer for all 15 of the Wolverines' games during the regular season and any postseason tournament games that would follow.
He should have been there to walk his parents, Mike and Elaine, across Howell Field for Senior Night before West Geauga took on Kenston last Thursday.
Tragically, the 17-year old junior had his life cut short when he was killed in a car accident last April. But ask anybody associated with the Wolverines' team and they'll tell you, he was right there with his teammates and parents on Senior Night, he still has a place on the roster, his No. 23 is still visible at every game and he still has a space on the field when the team is announced.
And above all, to his teammates, his coaches and his parents, Patrick Brady is still a big part of the West Geauga soccer team.
"Going to all the games this year definitely helped us connect to Patrick's senior year. It's the only connection we have left," Elaine Brady said. "We needed to try to do this. Last year, going to baseball games - (Patrick also played baseball at West G) - it was still very fresh and a little difficult to handle. But after a few soccer games this year, we just felt so comforted and all the players and parents were so supportive and so expressive. It is really just a wonderful community."
West Geauga senior Brendan Murphy was one of only two juniors last year to earn Division II All-Ohio honors, and his play this year for the Wolverines should put him in position to garner the award once again.
Senior Phil Grimaldi has notched three game-winning goals this season as West Geauga earned the No. 1 seed in the North sectional-district tournament. Fellow seniors Nathan Puskar, Mike Zaller and Scott Svoboda have been crucial pieces of a Wolverines squad that finished the regular season with an impressive 12-3 record and a reputation as one of the area's best soccer teams.
West Geauga has talent and leadership, but if you ask who is the heart and soul of the Wolverines is, to a player, they will all tell you it is Patrick Brady.
Brady hasn't scored a goal, dished out an assist or made a save this season, but his presence has been an undeniable source of inspiration for West Geauga. He is as much a part of the 2002 Wolverines' soccer family as any of the young men that suit up in the red, white and blue uniforms.
"It was a shot to the gut when I heard about Patrick, and it was very hard to absorb that it was a reality," said West Geauga coach Mike Sustin. "Patrick was a beloved kid with a smile that could change everything. He kept everything in perspective and had a way of leveling everything out. He will always have a place on this team and a place in everyone's heart."
Sustin's assessment of Brady's place on the team is evident at every West Geauga game. Brady's No 23 jersey has been framed and it is present on the sideline whether the Wolverines are home or away. When the West Geauga roster is announced, not only is Brady called out as a senior forward, the Wolverines leave a gap when they line up prior to the game where Brady should have been standing with his teammates this season. When West Geauga took the field in their season opener, the Wolverines started with 10 players, leaving Brady's spot vacant until the first stoppage in play.
"Patrick was a team player, and he always had a smile on his face," Grimaldi said. "It's impossible not to think of him. We're out there playing for him, and when we get down, we just feel like we have to come back for Patrick."
The Wolverines haven't been down much this season en route to 12 regular-season wins, including a perfect 8-0 record at home.
"We're undefeated at home, and he's here with us," Zaller said. "When we are down, we all think of Pat. He was such a hard worker who always had a great smile on his face."
Grimaldi echoed the sentiments of his teammate and stated as much following his game-winner late to beat Hawken in a game in early October.
"This is our house, and this is Patrick Brady's house, too," the senior emphatically declared.
Elaine Brady said she feels the players have embraced Patrick's spirit, and in certain circumstances, have even been helped on the field.
"During a game, we were down and needed a goal and a parent in the stands said to me, 'They have to do it for Patrick,' and not a minute later, we scored a goal," she said. "Timed to within a minute? That's not a coincidence."
Puskar is having an outstanding season. and he is not bashful in attributing his success to his friend and former teammate.
"He has really helped me, and this is the best season I've ever had," Puskar said. "Everything I do out there, every goal and assist, is for Pat."
Brady may have been taken prematurely, but it is abundantly apparent he hasn't left his teammates or the West Geauga community, mainly because of the impression he left in his three years at the school as a person. He passed away on a Saturday, and by Wednesday, the students had put together a 90-minute tribute to their classmate, including snapshots, videos, poems, songs and prayers.
Brady's parents have missed only one match this season, often times making a pregame meal for the players. Mike Brady said that the lengths that the team has gone to dedicate the season to his son are truly overwhelming.
"It's hard to put into words what it feels like to see the team honor Patrick and our family like they have," Mike Brady said. "The kids all had a real connection to each other. There was magic there. This isn't a regular season for any of them, I don't think. You can feel something different at those games, like Patrick gives them strength."
Sustin didn't have to say much to his team once word of Brady's death spread last spring. The Wolverines knew that their fallen comrade would want them to go on and all they could do was turn the tragedy into a source of energy for the upcoming year.
"We had a meeting with the boys shortly after the accident last spring and talked about staying together as a team," Sustin said. "The guys had some ideas for honoring Patrick. Retiring his jersey number, which we will do at the end of the season. Sewing his number on our sleeves. Leaving a gap in the lineup.
"Patrick's loss is a great absence for us, but his spirit remains. It's been unspoken as a team, not to constantly bring it up, but it's there. It is that presence that has uplifted the whole team and when we compete, we are very aware of it. It's the way Patrick would have wanted it."
The Wolverines wanted an undefeated Chagrin Valley Conference season to dedicate to Brady, but a loss to eventual champion Chagrin Falls derailed that plan. Nevertheless, West Geauga has bigger goals now as it moves into the district semifinals and the ultimate goal of winning a state championship. Each step of the way, No. 23 is a guiding force on the sideline and on the field of play and it is led to a special season that could have a storybook ending.
"Winning the state championship is a magical thing for any team, but it is a feat just to get to regionals in this area, and a West Geauga boys team hasn't been to regionals in 10 years," Sustin said. "We'll take one game at a time, but if we were to advance that far, I can't even imagine the feelings that would be going through everyone. The memory of Patrick just deepens the emotions around the effort."
While West Geauga might not be the favorite to bring home a Division II state championship, they have something on their side that not many other teams have going for them.
The Wolverines have a player whose heart and soul has made him the heart and soul of the team, and the entire West Geauga team is making sure that nobody forgets that.
"Our hearts are filled with such gratitude to everyone for embracing our family," Elaine Brady said. "The boys have made this season so special for us."
As her son, Patrick, has made it a special season for the boys on the West Geauga soccer team.
©The News-Herald 2002