Community remembers Chippewa Valley football player Nick Ureel after losing battle to cancer

(WXYZ) - Nick Ureel lost his battle with cancer last week. News of the Chippewa Valley High School senior's death hit the Clinton Township community around lunchtime. Within minutes, the tweets, Facebook posts, and various messages abundant.

There was a reason why so many students at rival high schools and adults in nearby cities were talking about Nick's passing. He was only 17, but in a few short years, his desire to live his life to the fullest touched thousands of people.

Nick's life left a mark that won't be forgotten, and last fall, our WXYZ Channel 7 team became part of the fortunate group to feel his love for life.

A Different Kind of Friday Night Light

Each Friday night during the high school football season, we visit a different school in southeast Michigan for our WXYZ Game of the Week.

We have traveled all over the area, meeting legendary coaches and all-state players for 14 Friday nights each year. Few visits touched me the way our time with Chippewa Valley's team did last September.

Big Reds head coach Scott Merchant is a friend of mine, who told me his team would have a special student in uniform at the game against rival Eisenhower.

Nick Ureel was battling cancer, and had just undergone surgeries out of state. His health wasn't good, and his testicular cancer was taking a toll on his body. After playing two years of football at Chippewa Valley, Nick had his junior season taken from him while he battled cancer.

Heading into his senior year, Nick was determined to be on the field.

In the season opener two weeks prior, he led his team out of the locker room, jogging onto the field carrying the Chippewa Valley flag.

When I arrived at the field and talked with Merchant on September 13, he introduced me to Nick, who was in a wheelchair. I explained our interest in talking with him on television, to showcase his pride and fight.

A smile was all I needed to see on Nick's face. He was into the idea of being on TV.

There was more, though. What Nick didn't know: his teammates had a surprise up their sleeves.

When One Rises, Others Follow

The time for our live interview was nearing. The anchors in the studio were getting ready to throw to us at the field. I asked Nick if he was ready to go, and that's when I saw what everyone was telling me about this incredible teenager.

He popped out of his wheelchair, scars from surgery in his midsection still healing, and walked over to me.

"You don't need to get out of your chair," I told him.

With his coach looking on, wearing a big smirk on his face and knowing the answer that was about to follow, Nick looked me in the eye.

"I know. But I want to," he said.

What followed was Nick's introduction to a television audience that quickly learned what I had just found out, and what the Chippewa Valley community had known for months - we were dealing with a special human being.

His teammates, wise as anyone within that community, collected 40 yards to our left. They were out of the camera shot as the interview began.

Then, as Merchant was explaining how much Nick meant to his team, the Big Reds moved as a unit. Step for step, one after another, they came closer.

30 yards away. 20 yards away. 10 yards away. Soon, they were right behind us, and right behind Nick.

Each and every member of Chippewa Valley's football team stood behind their friend. In the state's biggest school, with the highest student body population, a group of teenage boys gathered behind a teammate.

He was going through a bigger battle than most of them could grasp, and their support meant everything.

Nick looked over his left shoulder, smiling ear-to-ear. Then he looked over his right shoulder, with the smile now stretching past his ears.

"I don't know a better place to be," Nick said with a grin.

Lasting Touch

That memory carried a loud message. Nick had a will to live, but a stronger love for life.

Last Wednesday, 24 hours before cancer finally got the best of him, Nick sat in his bed and received his high school diploma.

His family stood by his side, taking a picture of Nick wearing that same ear-to-ear smile.

One day later, Nick died in the comfort of his home. He leaves behind a family that helped strengthen his fight, and a collection of friends he helped strengthen during his fight.

It's not often an interview at a Friday night football game has the effect this one did in September 2013, but Nick Ureel was different.

Those who knew him, know he was different. And we're all thankful for that.

Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter at WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli

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