JOHNSBURG – Heads bowed and the hollering halted.
After the final note of the national anthem was struck, the public address announcer asked the crowd and the players for a moment of silence.
As Johnsburg prepped for its biggest football game in some time, a Class 4A playoff showdown against lightning-fast Chicago Phillips, a somber mood swallowed the home bleachers and carried onto the field.
It was to be some game. But it was also just that.
Around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, a former teammate, Jarett Wolff, was hit by another driver at the intersection of Route 120 and Chapel Hill Road, outside the Riverside Chocolate Factory.
A 2014 Johnsburg graduate, Wolff rode in the passenger’s seat of a car with fellow grads Jose Martin and Dan Tysland, as well as Anthony Kowalsi, a senior.
“Through a miracle,” the announcer said, “all four survived the crash.”
Wolff, 19, was in critical condition and placed into a medically induced coma, suffering from brain trauma from the crash.
But he kept improving and no longer is in a coma.
“He’s breathing on his own, opening eyes,” said Anthony Rittorno, a junior cornerback for the Skyhawks. “Guy’s a [heck] of a fighter.”
“Seeing the swelling going down in his face, knowing he’s getting better and improving. A speedy recovery,” said his brother, Justin Wolff, a sophomore at Johnsburg. “They’re reducing it slowly.”
Earlier in the week, after hearing about the accident, Rittorno pitched the idea of selling T-shirts.
The proceeds would go toward the family’s medical bills.
So fans wore blue and gold shirts, reading “Play for Jarett” on the front and “Little Town, Big Hearts” on the back. Before kickoff, according to sophomore Wesley Pierce, they had sold 225 shirts. The shirts sold for $10 apiece, with $7 in proceeds from each ($1,575 total) going to the Wolffs.
Both halves of the 50/50 raffle winnings were donated to the family, so were the blanket sales from the evening, to help Wolff, who played outside linebacker a season ago.
Helmet decals were stuck on, too. A white sign with the blue words, “Play for Jarett,” draped the front of the stands.
“It’s just a shock, because compared to when I was a freshman, there was no community,” Rittorno said. “There was nothing. It was just a bunch of separate people. Today, it’s insane how much love there is for everyone. It’s unconditional. It’s really refreshing.”
Wolff, who hopes to enter the Marines, also was on the wrestling team at Johnsburg.
He was also a part of Breakdown, an anti-bullying group at the school.
“He was one of the popular kids that was really nice,” said Jake Carlson, a 2012 graduate and also a part of the group. “You got that dividing line of kids. He was one of the good ones.”