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Bryan Stork sealed a dream on Wednesday when he signed a national letter of intent to play football at Florida State.
Vero Beach (Fla.) High senior tight end/offensive lineman |
But one person was missing on his special day − at least physically.
Stork can play mulitple positions for the Seminoles.
"It was tough, but at least he died knowing I was going to play for Florida State," said Stork, a second-team all-state selection in Florida's 6A class. "He knew I was accomplishing my dream."
Stork, ranked as the nation's 26th best tight end by Rivals.com, has been a Seminoles fan since he moved from Illinois at the age of 12. Growing up, he had always disliked the University of Florida, so it was a natural fit for him to take a liking to the Gators' in-state rival.
But it was a surprise when a Seminoles recruiting coach showed up at a few of his spring practices last year and eventually offered him a spot as a tight end or offensive tackle.
"I never got a letter from them, and one day they came out to practice and I just fired it up," Stork said. "It was very unexpected."
Stork knew right then he was going to commit to Florida State, but Stork wasn't able to tell his father just yet because he was in surgery at the time.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound athlete gave a verbal commitment after the Indians' final spring scrimmage, turning down offers from Maryland, Florida International, Central Florida and Syracuse.
"Everyone else keeps their options open, but I was waiting for Florida State," Stork said. "Once they offered I was all over it."
But by the time his senior season started, Stork began to realize his father might not survive long enough to see him live his dream. Larry had been battling the cancer since around the time Stork was in eighth grade, and he was moved to a hospice center in September.
"He wanted to fight to stay alive so he could watch me on TV," Stork said. "He fought to the last second, but we told him it was OK to let go.
His dad had been such a big part of his football career.
Stork started carrying around a football around the age of 2 or 3, wearing a set of Brett Favre pads. As he got a little bit older, he was always tossing a football around with his dad. Larry even put a goal post in his backyard, and Stork would kick the football through the uprights barefoot.
Through his father's illness, football was Stork's outlet. Anyone watching him never would have guessed what he was going through in his personal life.
"Bryan's always been very within himself," Vero Beach coach Gary Coggin said. "He might be different around his buddies, but around his coaches, he is very businesslike. He is kind of self-contained.
"You knew it had to be there, but as far as him showing it during practice and throughout the week, you couldn't tell. That just shows his character, that he is going to fight through it no matter what."
Stork's mom, Vickie Marsango, knew her son was hurting.
"He made comments he was sad, but it would toughen him up, he said," Marsango said. "I knew it was bothering him deep down."
Stork missed one practice the week of his father's death but played in a key District 7-6A game against Jupiter two days later.
The idea of not playing wasn't an option in Stork's mind. He knew his father would have wanted him to play and realized the importance of the game, which sealed at least a spot in a district tiebreaker.
He also knew it would help ease his pain.
"I felt like, 'Yeah, Dad died. ? I want to hit somebody,' " Stork said.
Vero Beach won that game 29-6, and it was what Coggin called one of the best games of Stork's three-year career on varsity.
"It rates in his top two or three for sure," Coggin said. "He played on defense that night too, and it was just special.
"The kids rallied around him, too. They knew what he was going through. They were sharing it with him in their own way, and it was like, 'Let's win it for Bryan and his dad.' No one ever said it, but that's the feeling we got."
Stork knew it was going to be a good game the minute he stepped in at defensive line and came up with a big sack. It felt good taking out his frustrations on his opponents.
"I just felt energetic, and I didn't want to quit," Stork said. "It was the biggest adrenaline rush I've ever had. The guy ran past me, but I just grabbed him and slung him in front of me. I felt like Dad was there the whole time."
It's still difficult even now, four months later, but Stork looks forward to honoring his father's memory during his college career.
"It's frustrating knowing he's not here, but I can just use that on the field when I get up there," Stork said.