4A high school football: Mountain Crest fullback Gaje Ferguson plays in memory of 2 younger brothers
HYRUM — When Gaje Ferguson is faced with a challenge he isn't sure he can handle, he summons the strength he needs from the memory of two little boys who never got the chance to play high school football.
Their names are written on his cleats. Their love is what he feels when he's struggling. Their memory is what he honors with every accomplishment — on and off the football field.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about them," said the junior fullback, his voice wavering with emotion, while talking about his two younger brothers. "I wake up in the morning, go to bed at night, and they're in my thoughts. When I step onto the field, I say a prayer up to God just saying, 'Let me feel my brothers when I'm playing this game.' It's nice to know they're here."
A tragic car accident stole 7-year-old M'Gwire and 10-year-old Bridger from the Ferguson family two years ago on Dec. 18. They were the youngest of four boys in a family of nine children. Gaje is the oldest son, and he took it upon himself to teach the youngest boys how to play the game the Ferguson family loves.
"Some of the best memories I have is just being outside, in our yard, playing football with them," said Ferguson, a starting fullback and outside linebacker for the Mountain Crest Mustangs who face Timpview in the 4A championship Friday night at 6:30 p.m. in Rice-Eccles. "Just teaching them things that I knew, hoping to put them ahead, give them an advantage I didn't have. That's the way we bonded was through sports."
Gaje was 15 when his brothers were killed in a car accident that also injured two of his sisters. His other brother, Colten, was 13 at the time, and Gaje said the two older boys would pair up with one of the younger boys and the four of them would play two-on-two football for hours at a time.
Ferguson smiles when asked to describe his younger brothers. "Bridger was a fighter," he said. "But he was also very gentle, very nice. M'Gwire was a softy. But he was tough. He took a lot of teasing with three older brothers."
Ferguson said his life changed in many ways after he lost his brothers. In suffering an imeasureable loss, he also discovered how generous and loving people could be.
"I couldn't be thankful enough for this community," he said. "I wish I could show more thankfulness towards them, actually."
He said the family had massive medical bills after the accident and the community set up funds, organized fundraising dinners, activities and auctions. People he'd known all his life, and people he'd never met showed up with groceries, cooked meals and helped with projects around the house.
"People all over pitched in," he said. "People who were enemies in sports, reached out to comfort me. There was never a time when I didn't have someone who wanted to help. Never going through something like that, I didn't know what to expect. If I didn't have that support, I don't think I could have done it. Just having the support from everybody really helped, knowing everyone was there for us."
It showed the teen that family isn't just those who share your name, but also those who share your burdens and pain.
"I was 15 when it happened, and at that age, you don't really realize what a community can do, and the effect they can have on people," he said. "When everyone pitches in just a little bit, it can help so much. That's what happened. People from around the valley pitched in and they were able to help us get through it."
Mountain Crest head coach Mark Wootton said the tragedy rallied the team, the school and the entire Cache Valley community. The team gave the family football jerseys with the numbers worn by the boys and a football.
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