Lely senior Dennis Marcelin remembers endless hours spent jumping on his trampoline. He remembers numerous basketball games in his driveway that he always seemed to lose.
The memories of teammate and best friend Ereck Plancher all came flooding back last week. When Marcelin realized today was the anniversary of the former Lely football player’s death, he was overcome with emotion.
“About a week ago I just started crying,” Marcelin said. “I just started bawling in tears. I was really close to him. He lived one street away, and he was always at my house.”
As painful as the memories were for Marcelin, he’d rather relive them than let them slip away.
He’s not the only one. Trojans coaches and players are doing their best to make sure Plancher’s spirit lives on at the school and the former Lely star whom everyone knew continues to touch lives as he did when he was alive.
It’s been a year since Plancher collapsed during conditioning drills at the University of Central Florida, where the 2007 Lely grad was on a football scholarship. His death sent shock waves through East Naples, where Plancher was a hero not just for his athleticism on the football field.
“Ereck has meant a lot to us,” Trojans coach Steve Pricer said. “His legacy meant a lot to the kids last year, and he still continues to be somebody we’ll never forget. He’s with us all the time. He was just a good person that did things the right way. He was a special one.”
Lely memorialized its fallen star this past fall by hanging a sign reading “Plancher’s Place” that greets Trojans fans every time they walk through the gates to the school’s football stadium.
The Trojans started a tradition last season by making Plancher’s No. 5 jersey an honor given to one Lely player rather than retiring the number. Each season the coaching staff will award the jersey to the Trojan who most exemplifies Plancher — a leader who works hard on and off the field.
For those at Lely, though, a jersey and a sign just aren’t enough to honor someone who meant so much to his school, church and community. Beside the physical reminders, the Trojans want to make sure Plancher stays alive in the hearts of those at the school.
Plancher was the motivation last season behind Lely’s 7-3 playoff team, and he’ll continue to serve as inspiration as long as Pricer is around. It starts in May, when Trojans’ coaches will speak to the players — most of whom never played with Plancher — about the former Lely star and show the running back’s highlights.
“Keeping Ereck’s memory alive is critical to our kids,” said Pricer, who was an assistant when Plancher was at Lely before becoming head coach last season.
“We use him as an example all the time. We want our kids to understand where we would like them to go and what we want them to reach for. We want him to be the mold. He set a high standard.”
Those standards have reached far beyond Southwest Florida.
Chris Metzger was Plancher’s coach at Lely. After Plancher’s senior season in the fall of 2006, Metzger took a job coaching the football team at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, N.C.
Metzger not only knew Plancher on the field, but also attended church with his player at First Assembly Ministries every Sunday. Like the Trojans, the Pinecrest football players will continue to learn about the kind of person Plancher was.
Though the Patriots never met Plancher, the Lely player’s spirit will live in North Carolina as long as Metzger is there.
“I use stories about Ereck and the sacrifices he made,” Metzger said. “He would make sure he was at every single workout at 5:30 in the morning.
This year’s senior class is the last with a majority of players who shared the field with Plancher. Next year’s seniors were freshmen during Plancher’s last season, and few saw varsity action.
You didn’t have to be Plancher’s teammate, though, to know what he was about.
“Even though he was a football player, everyone knew Ereck,” said Jeff Charelus, Plancher’s cousin and a Lely senior. “Everyone knew he was a great person and a great student. He respected everyone. Even kids outside of football were inspired. That’s just the person he was.”
In August, Charelus, a wide receiver, became the first Lely player to wear No. 5 in honor of Plancher. While he wore the jersey as tribute to his cousin, Plancher motivated more than just Charelus last season.
“Every time you’re down or you’re tired, you think of Ereck,” Charelus said. “You’d think, ‘If he was here right now, would he be hanging his head? Would he be bent over tired?’ Everything you did, you did it 110 percent on the field like he would.”
Pricer hopes more than motivation comes from Plancher’s death. He hopes more coaches become educated about sickle cell trait, a medical condition affecting 1 in 12 blacks that led to Plancher’s death.
The tragedy already has brought light to the subject of sickle cell trait. At the American Football Coaches Association annual convention in Nashville last summer, which Pricer attended, a panel of medical experts addressed the condition at one of the sessions.
When spring practice starts in six weeks, Pricer will remind his team what it means to be a hard worker, a good teammate and a good person – what it means to be Ereck Plancher. The coach will continue the ritual every year as long as he’s at the school, and he’s already been there 32 years and has no plans on leaving.
And though he’ll always keep his former player’s memory alive, Pricer doesn’t need to look far to see Plancher’s spirit.
“When I see kids say the right thing at the right time,” Pricer said. “When I see kids bust their butts in the classroom to make great grades to have a chance to go off to a great school. Those are the things that remind me of Ereck.