Rocked by tragedy, Indiana State football will move forward together 'one step at a time.'
TERRE HAUTE — Curt Mallory knew the knock on his door at 4 a.m. Sunday couldn’t be anything good. His fears were confirmed when he saw Indiana State athletic director Sherard Clinkscales standing outside.
“I would much rather see a burglar than Sherard Clinkscales at my doorstep at 4 a.m.,” Mallory said in a news conference at Indiana State on Monday evening. “When I saw Sherard, right away I knew it was either my son from my immediate family, or somebody from our Sycamore family.”
Clinkscales told Mallory, who has been the Indiana State football coach since 2017, the news. Two of his players, freshmen Caleb VanHooser and Christian Eubanks, died in a single-vehicle crash about 10 miles from campus about1:30 a.m. Two others, Omarion Dixon and John Moore, were in serious condition as of Monday afternoon at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Mallory called a team meeting at 8 a.m. He told the team captains. He told his son, James, a player on the team who lives with several of his teammates. Word spread quickly. So did the devastation and grief.
Mallory has been a football coach for three decades. Nothing compares to the pain of losing a player.
“The feelings were unimaginable,” he said.
VanHooser was from Liberty Township, Ohio. Eubanks was a freshman from Warren Township in Illinois. They both had so much life ahead of them. They’re gone too soon.
“These were two young men that we felt were gonna come here with all the right expectations, and that they were going to represent not only their family, but their family here at Indiana State in a first class manner,” Mallory said. “They were going to earn their degree with a 3.0 (GPA) or higher and they were going to help us win the first-ever Missouri Valley championship. Those are the expectations that we have with every young man that comes into Indiana State."
There was a vigil on campus Sunday night, where community members mourned. There was a women’s soccer game scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but it was postponed.
Right now, the Sycamores community needs each other.
“Through tragedy, you find out a lot about people,” Mallory said. “We're very humbled and honored for the outpouring of love and support that we have received here within our football program through this time. We've heard from so many people across the country, and the response has been truly overwhelming. We had a gathering last night in Memorial Stadium where we saw the love within this community, from our students, our coaches and our staff. It surely shows what a great family we have here at Indiana State.”
Mallory came back to that word — family — time and time again. It’s what he is clinging to. It’s what his coaches and players are clinging to. It’s what the Indiana State community is clinging to. And it keeps showing up.
Clinkscales was stopped by multiple community members in public Sunday afternoon. Some offered words of comfort. One offered to pray with him — an offer he gladly accepted.
“That has been emblematic of the people here in this community,” he said. “I'm so grateful for that. I know the coaches and all of our student-athletes, we're going to become stronger from this.”
The strength will come after the pain. But soon, there will be football. The team had the option to weightlift on Monday. On Tuesday, they’ll start preparing for the team’s season opener against North Alabama on Sept. 1.
"We’ll take one step in front of the other and move together and we'll get back on the football field tomorrow," Mallory said.
Maybe it’ll provide a distraction. Maybe it’ll provide a purpose. When Indiana State players take the field in 10 days, they will do so playing for their brothers — the ones no longer with them, the ones with a long road to recovery ahead of them and the ones donning pads next to them.
They’ll do it together. They’ll do it with — and for — their grieving community.
“There’s no question there'll be parts missing,” Mallory said. “But this is a great time for us to come together as one Sycamore family.”