It was the first time back on the field for the Calgary Stampeders after the murder of their teammate, Mylan Hicks.
These are difficult days for the organization as they mourn the loss of Hicks, who they considered a brother.
Hicks died early Sunday morning during a shooting at the Marquee Beer Market in southeast Calgary, hours after the team won against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Detroit native was a defensive back on the practice roster for the Stamps and in his first CFL season. He was celebrating with teammates following a 36-34 home win. The Saturday game was the Stampeders’ 10th straight victory that improved their league-best record to 11-1-1.
Players and coaches are trying to put their best foot forward for Hicks, whose bright football future was cut short.
“This is a young man that should be here today,” Rob Cote said.
“It’s weird. You’re just looking at all your friends and everybody’s feeling this pain. We shouldn’t be feeling it,” Cote said.
Many players arrived at practice Tuesday appearing somber, not sure how to act after such an unthinkable loss. But Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson understands that every player will deal with tragedy differently.
“To be honest, you don’t tell them how to react. You just let them be themselves and you be a shoulder and a voice. It’s never going to be the same, but you’ve got to try and get back to who you are and take care of yourselves,” Dickenson said.
The best way the Stampeders family says they can cope is through football.
“Football for us, and I think for a lot of people, is very therapeutic. You can see, by the end of practice, the mood was very different than when we came in to meetings today,” Cote said.
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For Stamp Jamar Wall, who shared the same defensive back position as Hicks, dealing with grief meant changing his jersey to number 31 in honour of Hicks.
“That was just something I felt in my heart that I needed to do. I felt like we’re a family,” Wall said.
“It took me a while, a couple trips to look at his locker as I passed. It’s still kind of a surreal deal for us and like, OK, I can wake up now type of deal, but it’s just something we have to get through, and we will get through.”
Stamps running back Rob Cote is especially devastated for Hicks’ family and says no one should lose a loved one that way.
“The pain that we’re feeling in this locker room is very real and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what his family is feeling right now and that’s what just sickens me,” Cote said.
The Hicks family, including his mom and dad, are expected to arrive in Calgary on Wednesday from Detroit. Players want to personally speak with them and offer their love and support.
“I just want to shake his mother’s hand. I know she’s a big lady of faith, a Christian lady and it makes me feel better. I think he was a sheltered guy and to feel that comfort – that will of God, that he could be in heaven – I don’t know but it puts peace in my heart,” Wall said.
“It’s a pretty big family actually and the mom has a tragic story early in her life, so you just feel for them,” Dickenson said.
While thinking about this weekend’s away game in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats seems insignificant, the Stamps believe playing their heart out is exactly what Hicks would have wanted.
“[He would have wanted] us to go out there and dedicate it to him. Work as hard as we can, go out there and try and achieve something great in his name, and know that he’s with us and had a big impact on us,” Cote said.
Hicks’ locker will remain open with his jersey hanging in it for the rest of the season.
Before joining the Stampeders, Hicks attended Michigan State University on a scholarship and played cornerback, safety and linebacker.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Hicks signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
Nelson Tony Lugela, 19, was charged Monday with second-degree murder in Hicks’ death.