The Blue Valley football team gathered inside the school weight room Monday morning, a somber meeting that included few words. The players positioned themselves around head coach Eric Driskell’s patented black chair.
It was empty.
“No one sat in it,” senior Grant Lahr said. “No one could replace him.”
After suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm, Driskell, 43, remained in critical condition and in intensive care late Monday.
He was attending a meeting Sunday for the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association when he collapsed inside a restaurant.
“To be honest, it’s not good,” his wife, Kari Driskell, posted to her social media pages early Monday morning. “He needs a miracle.”
The news sent a shock wave through the Blue Valley High School and Kansas City football communities. The Tigers football team met first Monday, with Zack Willis finally breaking the silence with a short religious speech.
The student body poured onto the football field at 11 a.m. to take part in a prayer that lasted 25 minutes. Later in the evening, a few dozen students arrived at a local church for a prayer vigil.
Blue Valley senior Will Evans broke down during the vigil as he hugged his teammates, who later shared a few stories about their coach.
“He has the biggest heart,” Evans said. “He pulled me to the side during my first (freshman) workout and said, ‘I’m always here for you.’ That was the first day I met him.”
As the players recalled anecdotes, none involved wins or losses. But there have been plenty of the former.
Driskell took over the Blue Valley football program in 2010 after a long tenure as an assistant coach and won the Kansas Class 5A state championship in his first season. He added another state title in 2013 for his alma mater. He also won a state championship with Blue Valley as a player in 1991.
“He is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met and one of the greatest guys you could ever ask to play for,” said Northwest Missouri State quarterback Kyle Zimmerman, a member of the 2010 Blue Valley championship team.
“Some of the best memories I have of coach Driskell from high school (are) how he would always sit down and talk to me a couple of minutes before every game. He would just tell me that I didn’t have to be perfect and that no matter what happened, he would always love me. Just stuff like that showed us how much he cared about every player.”
Lahr described Driskell as someone “who has a relationship with everyone — the choir, the tennis team, the football team.”
Similar messages spread across social media Monday, many using the hashtag #BVStrong. Kari’s Facebook post accumulated more than 800 comments. Driskell and his wife have two daughters.
The sentiment of the social media posts revolved around Driskell’s upbeat personality. For example: Before every kickoff, he is known to close his pregame speech by saying, “Great weather for football.”
“Last year, we played in a state championship where the field was literally frozen solid,” Lahr said. “And there he is as we walk onto the field — ‘great football weather.’ ”
Last fall, Driskell was the Kansas City Chiefs’ selection for the Kansas coach of the year after leading the Tigers to a second place finish in Kansas Class 6A.
He is also the school’s head boys track coach.
In both roles, he is a fixture in the weight room. Baker University quarterback Logan Brettell, who won the 2013 title under Driskell, went to bed late Sunday after hearing the news. His first stop Monday morning was the weight room.
“The first time I ever stepped into the weight room was with coach Driskell,” Brettell said. “I had tears in my eyes the whole workout.”