(WVUE) - Young men faced an emotional task Friday night on the North Shore after one of their teammates sustained a severe injury last week.
Michael Doherty broke a vertebra in his back last week playing football for St. Paul High School. The junior is recovering but has no feelings in his legs.
What happened is something his fellow players could have never anticipated, much less put behind them. But on Friday they were forced to do just that, knowing that nothing is guaranteed and all the while playing for something bigger than themselves.
The team put number 36 stickers on the front of their helmets to honor Doherty, their team captain.
"I think that everyone wants to go out there and play for him and definitely wants to give it their all," said player Noah Seiden. "Everyone wants to get this one for him because he can't be here."
Teammates and school administrators said Doherty is an emotional leader.
"He played football not necessarily for his own personal things, but for the love of his teammates," school Athletic Director Craig Ketelsen said.
"He's one of the leaders that is very well-liked," said parent Kerry Meyers. "He's a good-hearted kid."
Doherty is recovering in a hospital several miles away from where tonight's game is being played.
"It's an emotional time," parent Denise Tourelle said. "Very emotional, but we're all being very optimistic, keeping the faith that God is going to heal him and he's going to be walking and doing what he does best."
"You can tell they were a little shaken by it, but it seems like they're all sticking together," Meyers said. "It's one of the closest teams I've ever seen on a sports team."
Just before the game, Meyers called his own son over to the stands and embraced him, knowing he puts himself in danger every time he steps on the field.
"Even before this happened, I think any of us as parents, when the kids are out here on the field, that they could get seriously injured, but they could get seriously injured in other venues too. It's rough but you know that's part of it," Meyers said.
And the part that's next for this football community is recovery. Wolves fans sported "Mighty Michael" bracelets in honor of Doherty, an emotional link that coincides with an emotional week of balancing the life of an adolescent and the stark reality of how quickly a life can change.
"It happened in an instant," Meyers said. "It's very scary. Any of the parents - all either on this team or the other team - nobody wants to see anybody laying on the ground. That's first and foremost. It's kind of devastating."
"Had it happened to my son, it would've been devastating just as much as it has been devastating for Michael," Tourelle said. "But at the same time you just got to have faith and believing God that a miracle can happen at any time."
Parents and students said that the hospital has been flooded with kids just going and sitting in the waiting room, going in two at a time to visit Doherty while he's recovering. Some parent said the support has been so overwhelming that at times they had to actually tell students to go home.