The cruel irony of the death of Dylan Steigers hit me square between the eyes earlier this month while attending the former Missoula Sentinel football star’s funeral.
Held on the gym floor at Dahlberg Arena on the campus of The University of Montana where Dylan, not unlike most Missoula football players, aspired both to be a student and a Grizzly, the 90-minute service was attended by about 500 people, including 80 members of the Eastern Oregon University football team who wore their jersey tops in his memory.
He was at his hometown school, with his teammates, coaches and families, eulogized for the outstanding person he had become. Sadly, he received nationwide recognition in his early death rather than his long life.
While Dylan took an unsteady path to the La Grande, Ore., campus after his 2006 high school graduation, he seemed to have readjusted his goals and established his own family priorities with his life partner, Liz Apostol, ironically the daughter of a former UM football player, and the birth of his own daughter, now 2.
He was on pace, not only to be a starter at slot receiver for the Mountaineers, but after six weeks of straight A’s was also close to qualifying for an academic scholarship to match the one he had earned with the football team.
But rather than enjoying an athletic and academic career at the NAIA school, furthering his education and possibly inscribing his name in the EOU record books, pages of his name listed on Google today speak only of his tragic death after he sustained a sub-dermal hematoma while making a tackle while playing safety on the next-to-last play of the Mountaineers spring scrimmage.
The adopted son of Tom and Cyndi Steigers, who works for the Grizzly Scholarship Association, Dylan was an outstanding player who completed his high school career by catching a TD pass in the Annual Shrine game for the state’s top performers.
Initially recruited by Carroll College, then at UM-Western, but not a great student, he wasn’t quite ready for the rigors of college life. Like many students his age, he floundered for a while enrolled at UM.
But in the last couple of years, when his personal life began to fall into place, so did athletics. When he met EOU coach Tim Camp when the Mounties stopped at Washington-Grizzly Stadium to practice on their way to a game, his life seemed to move toward its potential.
And after a subsequent telephone call asking Camp to let him prove himself, to have a second chance at football, he enrolled at the Oregon school and, as a freshman in eligibility, had quickly moved up the depth chart.
“He knew he had made mistakes,” said Camp, in reference to Dylan’s life after high school. “But he was making up for them every day.”
“We were a better football team, a program because of him,” he said, during a lengthy and emotional statement. “He was all the way all the way in.”
“I can’t put into words what he meant,” he added, before the team, which had traveled all day by bus to attend, rose to sing the school’s fight song. “He will leave a lasting impact on Eastern Oregon University … We’ll never forget him.”
Nor will Liz’s brother Eddie, himself a future EOU player, who shared space with Steigers while he lived with the Apostols the last three-plus years. “It was the best experience of my life. He was the big brother I never had,” he said. “It’s hard because he impacted everything in my life.”
And Dylan left Eddie Apostol with a message he will carry forward in his memory.
“When you get a chance to make a difference, do it,” he said.
During a tearful remembrance, Liz Apostol spoke not of the macho football player some knew and most knew of, but of the gentle and loving life partner she intended to marry.
“He would do anything to make me smile,” she said. “We spent every second we could with each other. There won’t be a day, a minute that (a thought) goes through my head without thinking of you.”
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