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ALBRIGHT: Stay strong Roane County

Nothing again will be the same about another Week 3 of any high school football season in the state of West Virginia.

Nothing again will be normal for the Roane County Raiders’ gridiron program, no matter the opponent or the venue.

Raider No. 80 won’t take the field with his teammates, or carelessly laugh with friends along the sideline as a graduate cheering on his alma mater to another victory.

“He was just a great guy,” teammate and friend Layne Epling said fighting back tears after asked about his friend by wvmetronews reporter Chris Lawrence Saturday at a memoriam inside the high school. “He was my best friend. He was the brother I never had. We hung out every day and there was rarely a day you’d catch me without him.”

Epling remained by Alex Miller’s side after he tragically collapsed on the field at the beginning of the second quarter against Clay County Friday night at Clay.

“He said he was dizzy and the trainer made him lie down and told me to talk to him. I started asking him questions and he knew the day, the month, and where he was, but then he stopped breathing and his eyes rolled back,” continued Epling.

Roane County superintendent Dr. Richard Duncan’s confirmation of the death later that evening brought tears to my eyes.

It was an occurrence far from the minds of either the Clay and Roane coaching staffs, any of the players or myself.

Plans of the first winning streak in two years for the program following hopefully a victory over the Panthers consumed Miller and his teammates’ collective conscious during warmup.

The well-traveled Raider contingent wished for the same outcome. They too were hungry for the success of a particularly likeable version of their football team.

Squad members like Miller made the love easily flow. The young man forwent the usual Dec. 23 birthday pomp and circumstance in favor of a fundraiser benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. He also took pride in preparing his younger teammates to assume the mantle of leader upon his graduation.

Prayers from around the Mountain State alongside quick work from emergency medical service crews hoped for an immediate miracle.

What had the city of Spencer done to anyone? What had the Roane County High School football team done to anyone? What had Miller done to anyone?

All of Roane County and Spencer as did Miller loved their Raiders.

Supporters pack the stands home or away every Friday night. All have the same affectionate affair with their group as other small, tight-knit communities around the United States.

Many waited out a driving rain storm one year ago to celebrate the end of a 13-game losing streak with their team at County Stadium. Cheers and smiles highlighted the emergence from a dark period.

Those same fans feed their Raiders between August two-a-day practices. Fresh pork butt and brisket are a few of the spoils on the menu.

Fast food wouldn’t do for their Class AA boys.

Local photographer Sue Knotts helped enshrine their playing days with game art, position photos and team shots. Every past Raider team fills the upper wall of the coaches’ locker room thanks to her and other’s hard work.

Cars recognize coach Paul Burdette’s Dodge truck anywhere around town. No one’s hesitant to stop and have a conversation with the head man window to window in the middle of a road.

The questions always centered around how the boys looked and what did Burdette think of this week’s opponent.

This was a special time in these boys’ lives. Everyone in the county wanted to make sure it stayed this way.

Overwhelming support stretches back all the way to Jim Hamric and Spencer High School.

It is these bonds, these links now more important than ever in the community keeping strong during this time of loss.

Celebrate Miller’s life any way possible.

Talk to the players and remember the highlights of this young man.

Share a laugh with offensive lineman Roman Moore, who you could audibly hear was excited about this group during the team’s media day. Let his light and talent for making people smile bring out the best of his classmate’s 17 years on this earth.

Chat with team captain Danny Bush. Better listeners and more upbeat people there are not in this state.

Parents, please, trust coach Burdette and his staff to be there for your child when you can’t be in attendance. Molding your sons into wonderful husbands, grandfathers, cousins, nephews, employees, bosses is their top priority. This includes getting each and every young man through this tragedy.

To the fans, please keep doing what you are doing for your Raiders.

This is going to hurt.

It may sting for a long time, but through the strength of your convictions no one in Roane County nation will have to fight through this alone.

#RaiderStrong

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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