Under a bright sun and a dark cloud of despair, the Brighton High football team converged on its practice field earlier this week.
Monday was supposed to be the first day of summer drills, a day for eager coaches to bark out orders of endless sprints, for players to run till their pores deluge with sweat and for everyone to boast about how they're going to win the championship in the fall.But all that, as well as the popular head coach, was absent.
Instead, there was stunned silence, sadness and awkwardness as a bunch of teenage boys and men huddled together in an effort to come to grips with what happened during a hellish weekend.
Two days earlier, the squad lost its general. Lynn Freestone, Brighton's head football coach for more than a decade, was on his way home from a thrilling trip to Lake Powell with his family and friends when a van swerved head-on into his truck and instantly killed him and the van's driver.
The driver, who was from Minnesota, had apparently fallen asleep and lost control of the van on I-89 outside of Panguitch. Freestone saw it coming, but there was nothing he could do to avoid the collision. In a last-second act of heroism, he turned to brace and protect his son, Robbie, who was in the passenger seat.
Robbie and his younger brother, Greg, and Freestone's wife, Sherri, were all injured after the truck was smashed twice -- first by the van, then by the boat they were towing.
The pain in their hearts has since been shared by the Brighton community, which now mourns the death of a devoted father and husband, a teddy bear of a friend, a fun-loving teacher, a well-respected gentleman and a successful coach.
"It doesn't seem real," sighed Brighton senior-to-be James Morzelewski.
It seems even less fair.
"It hasn't settled in yet," added Morzelewski in a somber tone. "It still seems kind of fake."
Unfortunately, it is not, and the shocked football team began dealing with that cruel reality this week. Instead of working out, heavy-hearted players listened to even heavier-hearted coaches speak words of comfort and counsel and prayer through lumpy throats.
"We just sat there for an hour," said Joel Theler, who plays several positions for Brighton. "No one knew what to say."
One thing shared Monday was a message Sherri had for the players.
"His wife said that he would really want for us to . . . stay good kids and give him a state championship and take care of his son Robbie," Morzelewski said.
The past three years, Freestone spent much of his time and energy helping Robbie, his oldest son, recover from an accident in which he seriously injured himself after falling out of a truck while delivering newspapers. Robbie, who suffered three fractured ribs Saturday, will be a sophomore this fall.
"A team goal is to take Robbie in as everyone's brother and bring him in as part of the team," Morzelewski said.
For now, though, talking about fulfilling Freestone's wishes along with reminiscing about good memories of their coach are about the only solace the players have while they try to cope with the tragedy.
"He was always happy. He always had a smile," recalled Lawrence Cowan, Brighton's star linebacker and tight end. "He always made little jokes that sometimes he only laughed at, but he said them so much that everyone would start laughing after a while."
Cowan also claimed Freestone really never got mad at anybody. "He would get upset, but he never really broke out and yelled."
"I disagree with that. He yelled at me and Joel," said Brighton defensive back Peter Gloeckner while breaking into a grin. "He got mad at us."
But even when Freestone occasionally had to admonish players -- and name a football coach who hasn't -- the boys knew he truly cared.
"Whenever we were down or after a loss, he told us, 'I love you guys all like you were my sons. If I could, if I had a big enough house, I would take all you guys in with me,' " Cowan said. "That just makes you feel that much better, your coach saying that he loves you like that."
Theler called Freestone "more of a friend than a coach," and it's easy to see why.
"He wanted you to be a better person," he said. "It didn't matter what you did in football."
More important to Freestone was what the players did on their dates or if they did their homework or if they were getting along at home.
"He spent more time at a personal level than at a coaching level with you," Gloeckner said. "He was a get-to-know-you coach. He wanted to know how you felt about things."
Freestone also wanted his players to know how he felt about things, especially about keeping a perspective on what he deemed important in life.
"He told us hundreds of times, 'Family first, God second and football third,' " Gloeckner said. "That's the order his life went."
Funeral services are Saturday at noon at Granite View Stake Center (9880 S. 3100 East). In lieu of flowers, a trust fund has been set up at First Security Bank for the Freestone family.