FOREST PARK, Ohio — Winton Woods senior lineman Will Edwards can still hear his late father's voice in his ears during football practice at Charlie Fredrick Stadium.
"'Will, go hit somebody,'" Edwards remembers his father saying. "'Just do what you do on the field.' I hear him all the time."
Monti Edwards died on May 8, more than a year after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He was a man of faith, a devoted father, husband, uncle, brother and friend, and was 48 years old when he died.
"I just keep him with me every day," Edwards said. "He got a (wrist) band that said, 'Fight like Monti.' It's in my locker right now. I keep it every day with me."
Edwards, a three-year starter for Winton Woods who plays on the offensive and defensive lines, is inspired by his late father's courage. He's keeping his father in mind as the Warriors begin the season Friday night at Trotwood-Madison.
"He would tell me to do everything I can to make my team better and put my team in a great position," Edwards said. "And he would tell me to just have fun and just dominate. Just dominate everybody that I see."
When Monti was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, family and friends adopted #Ready2Fight on T-shirts to support him. Edwards was with him every step of the way.
"I helped my dad a lot," Edwards said. "While he was going through his chemo, I was there everyday pushing him, telling him what to do. He was still on me about football and all that. I took him everywhere. Took him to doctor appointments, took him out anywhere he wanted to go."
Monti, who played offensive line at Kentucky State University in the early 1990s, was always at the Winton Woods football games to watch his son. He loved to share Facebook updates about his son's accomplishments.
Father and son enjoyed watching Notre Dame football and University of Kentucky basketball games together. Monti taught football to his son more than a dozen years ago.
"There are no words to tell you how proud he was," said Angelle Greene Edwards, Edwards' mother and Monti's widow.
"He told him every day, 'Son, I love you.' And we make it a habit in our house to tell each other we love each other all the time, because you never know about tomorrow," she said.
Edwards, 17, fully understands that perspective.
"Life is short, so I go out every day intentionally to make somebody's day better," Edwards said. "Make people around me better."
Edwards, who is 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighs 295 pounds, has certainly led others at Winton Woods, a Division II program with a significant football tradition.
Edwards has a 3.7 grade-point average and takes honors classes. His goal is to play NCAA Division I college football. Besides football, he has interest in becoming a chiropractor.
"Will is just one of them special guys," Winton Woods coach Chad Murphy said. "He's not always looking at what a coach or what teammate can do for him, but what he can do for a teammate or for the coach. He's a giver. Whether that's energy or whether that's love or whether that's what somebody needs. He is a phenomenal young man."
That love and support for Edwards is evident within the Winton Woods football program, too.
Coaches and players were there for the Edwards family when Monti died in May. The family relied on faith, family and friends this spring.
"God got me through it, because it was rough," Edwards said. "It was very rough."
That adversity didn't stop Edwards from being a leader and now a captain in the Winton Woods football program this summer. He didn't miss a step with his commitment to the weight room, workouts and practice. His example was a source of strength for coaches and teammates.
"He is a giving soul," Angelle said. "He gives in season, out of season. He gives to a homeless person on the street. He gives to his teammates. He cares deeply about what they're going through."
Murphy said Edwards didn't ask for condolences and pats on the back during summer practice. Edwards simply wanted to play football and be an effective teammate.
"I will get a little emotional," Murphy said. "I'm 44 years old, and I still have my dad. It's something that I've prepared myself for for a long time. You know my faith has helped me with that, but I've thought about a lot of kids over the years that I've been coaching that have been without a father. I can't imagine."
There are difficult times for Edwards, too. There are nights when he and Angelle cry, but they manage to get through the time together.
Faith has been essential during the grieving process. Monti was ordained a deacon in his church in 2013 and enjoyed the ministries and church community.
His smile and affable nature isn't forgotten.
"I think of him every day, really," Edwards said. "It was hard to believe he left, that he is gone. I know where he went and that's the end goal – to get to heaven."
Edwards is determined this season to help Winton Woods succeed and in the process make his family including his late father proud of how he completes his high school career.
"We had lost to La Salle in the regional game (Nov. 6, 2020 at home) and I take that very seriously because that's the last game that he ever saw me play," Edwards said. "So, come Week 2 (Winton Woods at La Salle), it's on. Got to win that game for him."