UNION MILLS | It happened once. And again. Ditto.
Wheeler quarterback Nick Naspinski scored a touchdown. He stopped. Looked up while both index fingers went upward pointing to the sky. This was not showtime for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound QB. He wasn't rubbing anything in anyone's face on Saturday night at South Central.
This was church.
"We all know why he's doing it," said Naspinski's grandfather, Ed Naspinski. "It's for his dad."
On the Bearcats' toughest offensive player's shoes are the numbers 12-11-10. That was the date, the morning, his father, Matt Naspinski, suffered a fatal heart attack. As life hung in the balance, Nick and his mother Tina frantically attempted CPR. Life got in the way of a perfect story.
Nick Naspinski did not play his junior year because of a shoulder surgery. The was tough on Matt, who remains one of Merrillville's all-time greatest running backs. The 1985 Merrillville grad's 2,980 yards is No. 4 on the Pirates all-time career rushing yards list.
"It was the worst experience of my life," Nick said of his father passing. "We used to get a pizza on Friday nights after the game and we'd talk. I miss that the most."
The Naspinskis were "Region." When they played catch in the back yard it wasn't a Kodak moment. It was more like Don Rickles was doing the play-by-play.
"He was always telling me about his stats," Nick said with a grin. "He was always showing me his press clippings."
Members of the Bearcats football team used to come over to the Naspinski home, and they competed in everything. When Matt played video games with the boys there was nothing but smack talking. This wasn't bad. This was fun. Joking and pushing and competing.
"Nick is a quiet kid and I know he kept a lot of the pain inside," Wheeler coach Dan Klimczak said. "When he scored that first touchdown and he pointed to the sky, I knew he was showing his dad some love. I could feel his pain.
"I know he's playing for his dad and I know his dad couldn't be any prouder of him. I know I am, too."
Before Wheeler's 49-0 win over South Central, where Naspinski was 7-of-8 for 146 yards and two touchdowns with eight carries for 99 yards and four TDs, Tina and Nick went to the cemetery where Matt is buried. They do this every weekend. Tina said her son is edgy, kind of nervous. Then, after he spends alone time with his father he doesn't speak.
"I know he wishes more than anything his dad could see him play," Tina said. "But I know he feels Matt's presence at the games."
The dad wrote the son a note a few years ago before a game. He had done that many times before. Tina found it one day when she was cleaning up Nick's room. The note has gone to every Bearcats game. Nick takes it and a teammate holds it while he does his thing.
It read, "Don't doubt yourself. Be an animal out there. I am proud of you."
After the Saturday Night Lights' victory, I am sure Matt would've written the same thing all over again. Like all family and friends can attest, it is deja vu watching Nick Naspinski do his best Matt Naspinski. The similarities are eerie.
"Football was his love," Nick said. "He instilled that in me. He taught me to always play hard so that's what I do. Everything I do this year is for him."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.