More than any other sport, football is about preparation.
Over the course of six days, coaches pore over film, painstakingly develop a game plan and implement it in practice to get their team ready for Friday night's opponent.
Nowhere in any manual or playbook is there anything about how to deal with the tragedy of a player's death, as LaPorte is going through after Wednesday's stunning loss of junior linebacker Jake West.
"When we talked to the kids at the hospital, we told them there's no Xs and Os for this one," Slicers coach Bob Schellinger said. "I've been at this a long time and you're never prepared to go through something like this. It's a traumatic, life-changing experience."
Plans for tonight's game at Merrillville were indefinite until Schellinger spoke to the team and West's parents. He wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do, and their resounding affirmation told him it was.
"Football takes a backseat when a 17-year-old young man passes away in front of your eyes," Schellinger said. "These are times when you say Jake would've wanted (us to play), but we don't know that. Doing right by the family was of the utmost importance and it still is."
It's already been a trying season at LaPorte, where the Slicers are 0-5. Records become inconsequential when a life is lost, but the strength in the ranks that has helped them persevere will serve them well in the face of their greatest adversity. Their motto this season is 'All In,' and most of the players wore those shirts to school Thursday, planning to do so again today. Wherever Schellinger saw one Slicer at school Thursday, he saw 40 or 50.
"Every coach in America preaches family," Schellinger said. "I've received several emails from coaches who said we fight on Friday nights, but (football)'s a brotherhood, and it's the bond that will get you through this. When something like this happens, when one of your brothers falls, you come closer together, like a family. The kids have really hung together."
Schellinger called the efforts of his coaching staff amazing. He is grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and support that has come from all directions, inside and outside of the LaPorte community.
"You're a father figure to a lot of these kids," Schellinger said. "Part of why you're in this business is to help kids and we've never done more than we have in the last 24 hours."
Morton coach Roy Richards spoke for the entire region in expressing his condolences. Two years ago, Jeff Wozniak of the Governors suffered a neck injury that left him paralyzed for several weeks. Richards is thankful every day that Wozniak recovered.
"It puts a whole new light on things, a huge neon sign over our heads about what we're really doing here," Richards said. "We're kidding ourselves if we don't think half of these kids are here playing hard, doing things for us and with us because they enjoy being around us. Here we are in the middle of the season, jockeying for position, and you realize what it comes down to is we're all just enjoying life together."
In these moments, there are no words to formulate perfect answers, no explanations to make anyone understand what is impossible to comprehend. All you can do is be there for someone.
"Every team in the region has LaPorte in the very forefront of their thoughts," Richards said.
When the Slicers captains head to midfield tonight for the coin toss, they will carry West's jersey. His number 26 and initials, JW, will also be on their uniforms for the rest of the season.
On most nights, we are fans of the Indians, Trojans, Wolves and Panthers. The list goes on. Tonight, we all unite in cheering for the Slicers. If you own an orange shirt and are going to a game, please wear it. Let them know they're in our hearts.