The photo showed up on Katie Taddeucci’s Facebook page a few days after the race.
A little boy with a buzz cut, staring up at a football player wearing a backward ball cap.
The football player is grinning.
The boy’s eyes are wide, like he’d just caught up with Superman.
The friend who posted it had a question for Katie and her husband Ray: Isn’t that your son?
It was. That was Vincent.
But the player next to him with the red beard and bright eyes? No. 27? Sam Foltz? Katie had to ask Ray.
The punter, he told her. The Husker punter.
Vincent is 8. He likes soccer and video games; he’s just starting to get into football, playing at recess, excited for flag football this fall.
He ran the Uplifting Athletes Road Race that Sunday -- July 17 -- with his cousin Harrison Clements, 10, a boy who had his birthday party at the spring game and has a Big Red bedroom with his grandpa’s old jersey in a shadowbox on the wall.
Katie and her twin sister, Jennie -- Harrison’s mom -- grew up knowing Husker football. Their dad is Dave Shamblin, a wide receiver in the mid ’70s.
The sisters and their families attend the Uplifting Athletes race every year because it’s such a great event, Katie said Monday. Supporting a cure for pediatric brain cancer and meeting the Huskers at the same time. The whole team is there cheering on the young runners, signing autographs after.
This year, Katie and Ray were out of town, so Jennie took the boys.
And a photographer took a picture that captured the magic of Nebraska’s young sons and their football gods, the childlike adoration of the athletes who fill Memorial Stadium and their imaginations, a lore that starts early and rarely fades.
People started sharing it.
Sam the Punter was one of them. He posted it on his Twitter account with these words: You never know who’s watching. What impact do you want to leave on the next generation to aspire to? #DREAMBIG
Husker Nation shared Sam’s words and the photo on Instagram; thousands of people liked it.
You have free articles remaining.
Vincent relished his little moment of fame, asking his mom the same question: How many likes?
He wasn’t sure who Sam Foltz was, Katie says.
“These little boys, they think it’s so cool to be running alongside the athletes, and having them encourage them. It doesn’t matter who it is.”
But as a mom, she was happy it was No. 27, a player who knew the meaning in a little boy’s eyes: I look up to you ...
“What Sam did with it, writing those words, taking this moment with a kid and making it into something, that’s what was so cool.”
She made the image her profile picture, just like Sam did.
And on Sunday, she heard the news that Sam Foltz, 22, had been killed in a car accident.
That the walk-on from Greeley had been helping at a kicking camp in Wisconsin, a passenger in a car that left the road in a rainstorm and hit a tree, ending his life and the life of the driver, former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler.
Katie felt sorrow -- like so many others -- for a young man she didn’t know.
She posted the story about his death on her Facebook page, details about the way he lived his life, the organizations he served, the good he did, how hard he worked to become a Husker.
She told her son that the player he ran with a week earlier had died.
“His first question was what happened,” Katie says, “and then he just got wide-eyed and quiet.”
Vincent was playing video games when his mom asked him if he wanted to go to Memorial Stadium for a prayer vigil for the punter. She figured he would say no.
But he didn’t.
The mom and her son arrived on campus early and waited by a statue of another Husker. People had begun leaving flowers, the start of a memorial in red and white.
She told Vincent about Brook Berringer, the big-hearted, hard-working quarterback who had died in a plane crash 20 years ago.
The boy with the buzz cut listened.
“His first question was, ‘Are they going to make a statue for Sam?’”