MASON, Ohio – When Mason senior running back Andrew MacLean steps onto the football field, he knows his late father is watching from heaven.
Tom MacLean had to be smiling late in the fourth quarter Friday night.
Andrew scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard carry with 3:25 left in the Comets’ 28-7 win over visiting Princeton at Dwire Field at Atrium Stadium.
The 5-foot-9, 140-pounder was promptly swarmed by teammates as they lifted him in the end zone.
“It was really special,” Andrew said. “I love these guys, and I was just so grateful for my coaches to give me the opportunity to get in and score. I am just really grateful for this program.”
Friday was Senior Night. The memories in that stadium warmed the hearts of players and families on a chilly, late fall evening.
That included Jennifer MacLean, Andrew’s mother.
“When I saw him run on the field, I said ‘Please give him the ball,’” Jennifer said. “It was so exciting. I didn’t even hear the loudspeaker call his name. Everybody around us was so excited.”
Those around Jennifer and her eldest son Matt, a 2014 Mason graduate, knew the family’s story.
Tom MacLean died in 2011 after a heart attack. Andrew was entering the seventh grade at the time.
Tom, who played offensive line at Columbus Northland High School, used to coach Andrew in youth football. He would’ve been proud to see how much time his youngest son put into the game over the years.
“I used to wrestle, and I just remember a lot of lessons he taught me about being intense and just always trying to make myself better with wrestling and football,” Andrew said.
Andrew is often third or fourth on the depth chart for the Comets, but he perseveres like a starter.
He’s quiet by nature, but his commitment and work ethic speaks volumes. He never misses practice. He loves his teammates. He’s a faith-centered teenager.
And he loves football.
“I truly believe it’s his way of staying close to his dad and making his dad proud,” Jennifer said.
Tears welled up in Andrew’s eyes as he explained the significance of the touchdown Friday night.
“I know it’s been something he’s been looking forward to his whole life,” said Matt MacLean. “I am just really happy for him.”
Those similar life lessons are emphasized within the Mason football program.
The Comets (6-3) clinched a playoff berth Friday night, and the Comets may be able to host a first-round game with a win at Sycamore this week.
Mason coach Brian Castner advised his players to soak up the playoff berth in the locker room and on the field during the postgame meeting Friday night.
But Castner also took time to recognize Andrew in his postgame speech. Andrew’s touchdown hit home for Castner.
“I think it was beyond neat,” Castner said.
“I lost my father when I was 21. Andrew and I have a lot of things to talk about when it comes to mom and dad. For him to lose his father at such at a young age and then to see him grind through his next four or five years at Mason High School and on the football program -- knowing really he’s a three or four on the depth chart -- but yet he’s a faith-oriented kid and does all the little things the right way.”
A few minutes after Friday’s game, the Mason seniors, cheerleaders and band members walked the length of Dwire Field for what could’ve been the final time in uniform at home.
Family and friends snapped photos and took video.
On the return trip up the field, the Mason football seniors lifted MacLean upon their shoulders.
“It’s awesome,” senior defensive back Jacob Gapinski said. “You see him work every single day. He comes out and he grinds. He works as hard as everybody else every single day without quit. And he doesn’t ask to go out on the field. But, when he does get out there and he gets a chance like that, it’s pretty special.”
As the stadium parking lot emptied, Castner sat in his coaches’ office reflecting upon what occurred on that final Mason touchdown of the night. He got choked up.
Castner considered putting Andrew into the game for a scoring opportunity on multiple occasions this season. In fact, it was something the coaching staff dreamed of during the season.
Friday night seemed to be the right moment.
“I know his dad is up there smiling grinning from ear to ear,” Castner said. “He is very proud of his boy.”