On a night when their names were up in lights, Eastern Washington football players Vernon Adams and Cooper Kupp willingly retreated to the shadows to help a friend.
Kupp already had been named the FCS freshman of the year on Monday morning, and Adams was awaiting the results of the Walter Payton Award when tragedy struck.
Kupp, Adams and senior safety Allen Brown had joined head coach Beau Baldwin and fans at Northern Quest Casino for Baldwin’s weekly radio show.
Baldwin was discussing the Eagles’ playoff win last weekend over Jacksonville State when Brown received a text message from his family in Tacoma: his older sister had died unexpectedly.
All three players left quietly, with Adams and Kupp supporting a tearful Brown and taking him back to Cheney.
“We’re a team, we’re brothers, and whatever Allen needs, we have his back,” said Adams, who finished second for the Payton Award given to the top player in the FCS.
Kupp, whose parents were in Philadelphia to receive his award, said he thought the day put life and football in their proper perspective.
“It was a very emotional day for the entire team, just going from the highs of the morning to the extreme lows of the night,” said Kupp, who was presented with the Jerry Rice Award at a team meeting before practice Tuesday afternoon.
At the same meeting, Baldwin read a letter from Brown, who reminded the Eagles “not to let any second go to waste, and take advantage of every moment you get.”
Brown, a senior captain, is expected to return to Cheney on Thursday.
“We’re all here for him in the locker room when he comes back, that’s always a sanctuary,” Adams said.
“He’ll be here and he’ll be ready, no doubt about that.”