CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Ethan Minter is only a sophomore, but the Thomas Dale High School student has been the Knights starting quarterback for two years.
"When we got him as an 8th grader, it was like wow, this kid is kind of polished," Thomas Dale football coach Kevin Tucker said. "Now in his sophomore year, there's still plenty of room for growth but I think he's only scratched the surface."
Minter has played football since he was five years old and a big part of his early development in the game came from working with his father Tony.
Tony Minter was Ethan's first coach. The two talked football all the way from the first whistle to the dinner table.
"We were able to talk about life but also football all the time," Ethan said.
"Tony was a community guy," Coach Tucker added. " He loved coaching football, basketball softball, whatever the kids were playing, baseball it didn't matter. He wanted to be involved in his kids' lives and spend as much time as he could with them."
That's part of what made what happened to Tony so difficult for so many people.
Earlier this season, Tony contracted COVID-19. His health steadily declined.
On October 5, 2021, Tony passed away. His death left a huge void surrounding Ethan, his family, and his teammates.
"We're still processing everything," Ethan said. "It's hard, of course. None of us understand it. Being at football has really helped me."
Coach Tucker told Ethan to take as much time as he needed to be with his family.
Ethan returned to the football field quickly because that's what he said his dad would have wanted.
"Ethan missed one day of practice," Tucker said. "That's just the type of kid he is, the type of family the Minters are and I know his dad would be 'Hey, you're not missing practice for anything. You need to be there and supporting your brothers.'"
Ethan's brothers on the field, in turn, supported him.
"They've kind of just been there for me when I've needed them," Ethan said. "They've really helped me get my mind off everything, just being here with them having fun. They've made football fun when it needs to be."
"I think Ethan relied on their friendships, their love, them pushing him to get up out of bed in the morning to come out here and compete like his dad would want," Tucker said.
The Friday night after his dad's death, Ethan Minter took the field in Thomas Dale's game against Henrico.
At the start of the third quarter, the stands exploded with light in the form of a cell phone tribute to Tony Minter from the fans.
It was also a way to let Ethan and the Minters know they weren't alone in their grief and in their determination to move forward.
"Going out there, it was very hard seeing everyone's tributes," Ethan said. "But once I got on the field, I was just playing football and not thinking about anything else."
"I knew in my heart, if he asked me to sit out, there would be no questions asked. We'll battle for you," Tucker said. "But I knew Ethan, I knew his tenacity, I knew his will, his drive. He didn't even want to miss practice the day they buried his dad. I knew that he was going to be here that Friday for his team, for himself, for his family. It was a special night that night."
The Knights won and Ethan continued with the rest of his season.
While he was no longer able to speak directly with his father, he said he still heard his dad's words and advice in his head and his heart every time he took the field.
"He's always telling me to be relaxed, be myself and have fun with whatever I'm doing," Ethan said.
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