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Memory of father inspires Fishers high school football player to play in his honor


11:10 AM, Nov. 09, 2012 EST

Fishers High School football outside linebacker Matt Van Hoosen returned to a a Friday night game to play in the second half, after his dad Trent died that morning. Joe Vitti / The Indianapolis Star

FISHERS, Ind. -- It was four days after Matt Van Hoosen had been pulled out of his fourth-period German class and the rest of his life started. Four days? It seems like four months. Sitting in a chair at his kitchen table, Matt is at ease talking about what is next for him, his family, his younger brother.

Then, that smile. A smile so wide and bright it illuminates even the dark corners of the kitchen. It comes when he recalls the CrossFit workouts his dad put Matt and his friends through to prepare for football season. Trent Van Hoosen did them too, carving out a makeshift gym in his garage for pullups, pushups, squats and other exercises.

"He's 46 and he's out there doing the same workouts I am," Matt said with a laugh at the memory. "That's awesome. That was one of his passions."

In that moment, Matt looks just like his dad, or what his dad must have looked like at 17. People always commented on how much Matt reminded them of his dad. Their smiles. Their can-do attitude. Their physical and mental strength.

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Trent Van Hoosen died last Friday, a victim of a blood clot in his chest. The devastating news spread through Fishers High School like a brush fire, shaking a school, a community and a football team to its core.

Matt and his dad always had football. Matt is a senior, a starting outside linebacker. After every home game, Trent, a former Iowa State offensive lineman, would wait along the chainlink fence at the gate. Two weeks ago, after Fishers defeated in-town rival Hamilton Southeastern 42-7 in the sectional semifinal, father and son shared a long embrace.

"He had tears in his eyes," Matt said.

It was the last time Trent saw Matt play.

Hugging and Crying

Matt was in a fog in the hours after receiving the news. When he arrived at his stepmother Susan's house that afternoon with his younger brother, Joe, a freshman at Fishers, there were already a couple dozen people there. Two of his closest friends, senior linebackers Liam Duddy and Robbie Peck, arrived later that afternoon, as did Fishers coach Rick Wimmer and Matt's position coach, Pat Schooley.

"A lot of hugging and crying," Duddy said.

Nobody talked about football. Fishers was hosting McCutcheon that night in the sectional championship, though it wasn't expected to be much of a game. Fishers defeated McCutcheon 34-6 during the regular season.

Matt didn't plan to go.

"I wasn't really ready for that," he said. "But the closer it got to game time, I felt like I needed to be there."

So Matt went, dressed in street clothes. He left his No. 49 jersey and game pants at home. Wimmer spoke with him briefly before the game, telling Matt he was glad to have him there. His teammates did the same.

Then the game started. It was awkward, for Matt and the team.

"It was definitely a different mood than there usually is on game day," Peck said. "That mood carried over to the game."

Fishers trailed 6-3 at halftime. The season, filled with so much promise after the win over HSE the week before, was teetering on the edge.

The locker room was glum at halftime. Tony Farrell, the defensive backs coach, approached Matt and asked him if he wanted to play.

"I thought he was joking," Matt said. "I said, 'Can I?' "

Just hours after losing his father, his biggest fan, Matt was headed back to the field to play for him. He pulled on a No. 49 freshman jersey and a pair of medium pants that were too tight, and jogged out to the field a couple minutes into the third quarter. The crowd quickly realized what was happening and chanted Matt's name.

"You couldn't have written a more dramatic scene," assistant coach Curt Trout said. "When he ran out on to the field to a standing ovation, it was so emotional and awesome all at the same time."

Two plays after Matt entered the game, he sniffed out a screen pass and belted the running back. He paused, and then looked up and pointed to the sky.

"I didn't plan on that, I just felt it," said Matt as Fishers would score 35 consecutive points to advance to Friday's regional championship with a 38-13 victory. "During the game, I was talking with (my dad) a lot. I felt like he was there with me. I know for a fact he wanted me to be out there. That's what he would have wanted me to do."

You Couldn't Forget Him

A day later and nearly 1,000 miles away, in Grand Forks, N.D., Chris Moorman was preparing his North Dakota football team for its final home game of the season. He hadn't heard about Trent Van Hoosen's death until he received a text message from former teammate Gene Williams minutes before kickoff.

He quickly called Williams back to confirm.

"I didn't handle it well," said Moorman, who roomed with Van Hoosen for away games at Iowa State in the late 1980s. "I was sort of standing there in a fog and one of our assistant coaches asked me what was wrong. I told him I'd lost a friend and teammate. It sort of permeated through our team. After the game (a 33-29 North Dakota win), a number of players told me they wanted to win this one for me and my friend.

"That was very special."

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Trent Van Hoosen came to Iowa State as a walk-on out of Iowa's Newton High School in 1985. He was a linebacker, but was quickly moved to offensive guard and earned a scholarship. He started for three seasons and was part of a team that went 6-5 under Jim Walden in 1989, just one of two winning seasons for the program from 1981-99.

Van Hoosen started alongside future NFL players Williams and Keith Sims on the offensive line.

"That was probably the best offensive line we've had in the last quarter century," said Tom Kroeschell, an associate athletic director at the school. "(Trent) came back for a reunion a few years ago and said, 'You don't remember me do you?' I said, 'Of course. No. 54.' You couldn't forget him."

Van Hoosen is easy to spot on old YouTube clips. After touchdowns or big gains, No. 54 was almost always the most jubilant player on the field.

"There were some years in there where we weren't very good," said Tim Murphy, a former student trainer at Iowa State. "But Trent always made it fun. And he knew all of the trainers' names, which was not stereotypical for a football player."

Williams was talented, but didn't love football like Van Hoosen. There were even times he thought about giving it up altogether in college.

"I'm not going to tell you I was 'rah, rah' football," said Williams, who went on to play nine years with the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. "I liked the games, but hated the parts that led up to it. But 'Horse' -- I always called him that -- kept me going. He'd always say, 'You've got nothing better to do on Saturdays than play football.' "

Moorman had reconnected with Trent in the past six months as Matt considered pursuing football in college. Moorman appreciated those recent conversations with Van Hoosen.

"He was the type of person you wanted to be around," Moorman said. "He had a way of making you feel good about yourself when you were around him. That's a special quality to have."

Love Notes

For Trent's 45th birthday last October, Susan, Matt, Joe and his stepdaugther Sophia presented him with a wooden box. Inside were written notes, 45 from Susan and 15 apiece from the three kids, with things they loved about Trent.

Some were funny. Joe wrote, "I love your dancing," and Matt, "I love how all my friends think you are huge."

Others, in retrospect, are heartbreaking. From Joe: "I love it how you still play football in the backyard with me," and "I love how you, me and Matt have late night pizza nights." From Matt: "I love how you push me to set goals for myself and we talk about them often," and "I love I can talk to you about anything."

It is comforting to Matt that he and his brother and sister had a close relationship with their father. He's thought about that a lot in these long days since Friday, especially at Monday's service when he was surrounded by his Fishers teammates -- dressed in their jerseys -- and hundreds of other people his dad had known.

"He treated everybody with respect," said Eric Hohlt, who coached youth football with Trent, "whether he'd known you for 20 years or 20 minutes."

Matt is setting goals. New goals. He wants to stay close to home for college so he can attend Joe's games, like his dad did for them both. He wants to be there for Joe, waiting at the end of the chainlink fence when he comes off the field. After the football season, he wants to train for the CrossFit Games and compete in his dad's honor.

And Friday night? Well, tonight Matt wants to make his father proud. His Fishers teammates will wear "TV" and "49" helmet stickers to honor the Van Hoosen family for the regional game against Fort Wayne Snider.

His dad won't be there, waiting for him by the locker room. But he will be with him out there on the field, in his heart and in his mind. Watching and smiling with that big grin.

"I hope that I can have the same presence he had," Matt said. "I guess I'd call it charm. He had that. I hope I can carry it on."

 

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