When Robert E. Lee steps out onto the field Friday against third-ranked Euless Trinity, the Red Raiders will each have a No. 61 sticker on the back of their helmets.
This is to honor Steven Christian, who died Monday morning after a three-year battle with cancer.
He was 24.
Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. today at Lloyd James Funeral Home with the funeral service at 10 a.m. Thursday. Members of the 2004 state championship team will be honorary pall bearers.
“It started out as testicular cancer and moved into his brain and spinal cord,” said Lee offensive coordinator Gary Fleet, who was Christian’s offensive line coach. “He was in remission several times. It’s been a three-year battle and he’s battled it to the end.”
Lee head coach Randy Huffstickler said although most of Lee’s current players were in elementary school in ‘04, they were touched when Fleet told them this week of Christian’s passing.
“I met with the seniors Monday to lay out our game plan for this week and that is the one thing they brought up is can we do something to honor Steven Christian,” Huffstickler said.
Fleet said he was able to meet with Christian and his family last week.
“He said don’t worry about him, he was going to heaven, that he was tough and I told him I knew that,” Fleet continued. “He just told me how he loved me and what an honor it was to play football. It was the best time of his life.”
Fleet said Christian was in hospice the past week, and when they met, he did not ever say how he was unfortunate or unlucky. Christian was married last month and recently received his police badge.
“He and his parents asked me if I could please use him as inspiration to (the team),” Fleet said. “To enjoy life, and even though football seems tough to cherish every moment. His family had an unbelievable spirit.”
Christian was part of an all-senior offensive line in ’04. Comprised of Christian, Brian Culp, Matt Holland, Ciron Black, Blake Larmon and Sam Banks, the group paved the way for 2,800 yards rushing and 1,554 yards passing. Christian was part of an offensive line rotation, but an injury to Holland in Lee’s semifinal win over Euless Trinity moved Christian to starter for the biggest game of his life.
“He stepped in and played the whole game,” Fleet said of Christian. “He was so typical of that team. Not just the best athletes in the world, but they were just willing to do whatever was needed.
“He was a state champion, but he really showed in life what being a champion is all about.”