(Editor's note: This is a developing story and will be updated when more information arises.)
For anyone who has been to a Tivy High School football game this season, there was one unmistakable presence on the Antlers' sidelines — David Palestrant, No. 65.
Late Thursday night, Palestrant, 17, died in a car crash along Interstate 10 — a devastating blow to a close-knit football team and community. The Texas Department of Safety is investigating the crash and has not released details.
However, the news spread fast throughout Kerrville, fueled by social media posts, leading to an impromptu vigil and prayer service at Antler Stadium on Friday afternoon.
"Thank you for being out here today," Tivy football coach and athletic director David Jones said. "Thank you for supporting them. Thank you for being a family to them. Be with them. Pray for them. God what's you to know that you're loved and cared about."
More than 250 people gathered at the stadium's 50-yard-line to pray, hug and share stories about Palestrant, who was always enthusiastic on the sidelines. He was always cheering on his teammates.
"He was always bringing positive energy," said junior Maddox Stegall, who played with Palestrant on the defensive line.
Tivy High School football coach David Jones addresses the team during a vigil to remember senior lineman David Palestrant.
The Antlers will play in their final game of the 2021 season against visiting Alamo Heights tonight. In a season of challenges, including the deaths of fathers of two players and a serious injury to standout receiver Jackson Johnston, the Antlers face their most serious test yet.
"We are trying to stay strong and fight through it all," said junior defensive back Will Robinson.
Still, the consensus among the players is that Palestrant would want them to play.
"We want to play to honor everything that has happened this season,'' Stegall said. "We want to honor everyone, really."
Parents organized the prayer vigil, including Ada Brown and Kari Bock, who called upon Chick-Fil-A and Mini Mart for help with food and water. Bock said people might not want to eat, but it's also a source of comfort. Brown, along with running back Fisher Middleton, helped gather the crowd at the 50-yard line.
Middleton described Palestrant as a lifelong friend, who he had played baseball and football for years. Such is life in a one high school town, where tight personal bonds carry from elementary school, youth sports, and high school — often beyond graduation.
People trickled in — many weeping, including Tivy Principal Shelby Balser. Kerrville Independent School District Trustee Andree Hayes and Kerrville City Councilwoman Judy Eychner were also there.
They walked a lap around track to honor the life of Palestrant.
However, it was the words of the players that may have provided the most perspective. Several players said Palestrant was the life of the locker room, who exemplified the Tivy Fight Never Dies spirit and always liked his snacks.
"He's probably laughing at us and looking down at us," said Desnic Houston. "He's eating his Chex Mix."
Real Life Fellowship Pastor Ryan Huff was one of the speakers, providing prayers on two occasions.
"This might be the first moment you've had to bow your head and respond to God," Huff said. "I encourage you to respond."
Despite their challenges and hurt, the players made it clear their response would be to take the field tonight. They won't make the playoffs, but this will be the biggest game of their season tonight. This one will be for David Palestrant.