Emblazoned in navy blue on the back of every Westminster Catawba Indians' golden football helmet is the number 3. The team, led by first-year head coach Dan Devine, will display this number this season, which began Friday night against the SouthLake Christian Academy Eagles.
The number belongs to Lewisville High School running back Brian Colvin, 18, who collapsed and died a week ago during a scrimmage game against Westminster Catawba Christian School.
For Devine and the Indians, the number symbolizes the spiritual connection the team has forged since Colvin's passing.
"We feel like we've been linked to Brian for life," said Devine, who attended Colvin's viewing Tuesday night with his players. "His death deeply affected this team, and we've been praying for his family ever since it happened. The past week and this game tonight are both dedicated to Brian without question."
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Westminster Catawba opened its season Friday with a 45-0 victory over SouthLake Christian and with aspirations of duplicating - perhaps even surpassing - the success of 2009, when the Indians went 8-5 and came within one win of a championship game berth.
But as the honored guests of the evening began to trickle in, the road to the NCISAA championship took on added meaning for the team and its fans.
The Lewisville Lions were met with heartfelt applause as they arrived in uniform to watch the Indians play. As quick as the ovation started, it ceased as heads lowered in prayer and for a moment of silence. The Lions joined the Indians in a pre-game huddle before storming onto the field as one team - united in a tribute to Colvin.
Standing on the bleachers during the game, forming the A-OK symbol with their hands held high in the air (representing the number 3), Lewisville senior linebackers Zack Carter and William Cox reminisced about Colvin.
"You can't find a single person that would say anything bad about Brian," Carter said. "He was a person everyone loved to be around, and I consider myself lucky that I got to know him."
"We used to race each other on the playground when we were 5 years old," said Cox, who briefly paused to celebrate a Westminster Catawba touchdown. "He beat me every time though. It really hit everyone hard this week when Brian wasn't there for the first day of school. It was truly a heartbreaking feeling."
The coaches, players and parents of the Lewisville Lions were taken aback by the throngs of supporters on hand to pay tribute to the team and the memory of Brian Colvin.
The support only intensified when Colvin's biggest fan arrived just before the game.
Johnnie Mae Colvin, mother of Brian, was flanked on all sides by her family and loved ones when she joined the Lewisville cheering section. After receiving a bouquet of flowers, Colvin commented on the overwhelming love that she received from the Westminster Catawba crowd and her Richburg community.
"It means a great deal to me, having everyone come up to me and offer their support," Colvin said. "I thank and love everyone for everything they've done."