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GRAND ISLAND — The streets around the church had turned into mini lakes. The morning downpour was that great.

Probably Sam looking out for the farmers, a voice or two suggested.

But as the noon hour approached, and the funeral service for Sam Foltz ended Saturday, a woman filing out of her pew nudged her friend to look outside.

"The sun's out!" she said.

"Look at that!" her friend replied.

Just one week after tragedy, friends and family gathered to remember a person who seemed to his friends to live most every day in sunshine. There were upward of 1,500 people at the service to honor the Husker punter who died in a car accident last Saturday. Many were in suits and dresses. A few in hunting vests. A few in Big Red T-shirts.

All styles worked for Foltz.

"He was a man of passion," said the Rev. Donald Buhrman, adding that one part of passion is "a willingness to sacrifice for others."

Buhrman spoke of how many believed Foltz was going to make it to the NFL. When discussing that earlier this week with Sam's mom, Jill Foltz, she said something that stuck with the priest.

"Jill reminded me that Sam's not going to the next level, he's at the best level, with Jesus our Savior and Lord," Buhrman said.

Foltz's head coach, Mike Riley, and what seemed like most everyone on the Husker football team made the 90-minute trip to pay their respects to their late teammate.

Few were closer to Foltz than senior kicker Spencer Lindsay, who noted that Foltz would have been the best man in not only Lindsay's wedding, but also the weddings of teammates Sam Hahn and Drew Brown.

"I don't think there's many guys you could say that about, that would be the best man at three guys' weddings, maybe even more," Lindsay said. "I think that speaks to his character."

Enough family and friends showed up at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church that overflow seating was required in the foyer.

Seven Husker team buses were loaded with athletes, as well as athletic department personnel. UNL police escorted them all the way to Grand Island. Riley, next to his wife, Dee, and athletic director Shawn Eichorst, next to his wife, Kristin, led the walk from the buses to the church.

NU president Hank Bounds was there. UNL chancellor Ronnie Green was there. Coaches from many sports, including a former Husker punter named Darin Erstad, were there.

Former teammate Vincent Valentine, now with the New England Patriots, flew in just for the funeral, dressed in his best suit, sitting in the back of the church.

After the service, Eichorst paused for about 15 seconds to collect himself when discussing what Foltz meant to him.

"Sam was a young man who understood what it meant to have a purpose, what it meant to have a pride, what it meant to be passionate, what it meant to care about everything and everyone," said Eichorst, choosing each word with care. "We had a ton of similarities and we knew each other. You know, that Smalltown, USA. All that resonated with us. He's a great role model for everything that one should want."

In one hallway, a TV showed rotating photos of Foltz playing football, hunting, smiling at weddings.

One photo showed him drilling a UCLA return man. "This is a punter at Nebraska nailing UCLA player," the caption read.

He was not your everyday punter, everyone agreed. He was not your everyday person.

Foltz was, simply, a whole lot of fun.

Lindsay told the story of last spring when he, Brown and Foltz had tickets to the early-round NCAA Tournament games in Omaha. One of the teams in town was Kansas.

Of all the weird things, Lindsay's mom had booked a hotel room for Foltz and Lindsay that put them on the same floor as the Jayhawks.

Foltz and Lindsay didn't know many of the guys on KU's team, but they knew Bill Self was the coach and they knew his son, Tyler Self, was a walk-on bench guy.

So Foltz opens the door of his room and starts yelling, "Where the heck is Tyler Self?" Over and over again. Sure enough, a skinny kid across the hall opens up the door. There was Tyler Self.

Lindsay didn't know what to say. "Eventually Foltz comes out and starts putting on that charm."

Sam Foltz and Tyler Self ended up talking for about five minutes.

Or what about the time Foltz came back to Lindsay's second-floor apartment after a day of golfing and hanging out at the pool and decided he wanted to hit one more shot of the day? Foltz opened the sliding glass door and did his own "Tin Cup" routine. Lindsay started videotaping. Miss it a little left or right and he probably breaks a window. He didn't. He plopped it over the guard rail and got his shot of the day.

"He enjoyed life, and isn't it a gift we're supposed to enjoy?" Buhrman said.

Mostly, he was humble and kind. Fitting, that the lyrics to the Tim McGraw song by the same name were in the funeral program under a picture of Foltz kneeling to pray before a game.

When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you / When the work you put in is realized / Let yourself feel the pride but always stay humble and kind.

He was always a fiery competitor, who could hang clean 315 pounds in the weight room. That's a punter. Punter aren't supposed to do that.

Of course, this is a punter who was a four-sport star growing up. He was a standout wide receiver at Grand Island High School and also the best safety Islander coach Jeff Tomlin said he's ever coached.

Lindsay first met Foltz when they were in high school. The bond only strengthened with time.

They roomed together for two years during college. They've spent almost every day together for five years.

"He had a way of making you feel like you were almost closer to him than you were," Lindsay said. "He was extremely genuine with everyone he was with … which is why he had so many friends. He just had a knack for making friends everywhere he went. And he didn't make any enemies either. Everybody liked Sam Foltz."

Don't expect a free ride from no one / Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why / Bitterness keeps you from flyin' / Always stay humble and kind.

Buhrman mentioned that several Huskers had spoken during Friday night's wake about wanting to carry on Foltz's legacy.

There have been various suggestions throughout the state this past week about cool ways the Husker team should honor Foltz. One popular idea has been to take a delay-of-game penalty the first time Nebraska has to punt.

In a light moment near the end of the service, Buhrman mentioned that idea, before adding what he thought might be a better one.

Never face a fourth down, he joked. Never punt at all.

"To whatever you do for Sam's legend in remembrance of him," Buhrman said, "know that you have a lot of work to do."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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