Lions share compassion, ties to Oxford community, including with football coach Zach Line

Detroit News

Allen Park — It’s difficult to return to everyday life the day after a tragedy strikes your community, whether you work for the local grocery or an NFL team.

On Wednesday, Lions coach Dan Campbell opened his daily news conference expressing condolences to the town of Oxford, where four students died in a school shooting on Tuesday.

“Our heart goes out to the Oxford community,” Campbell said. “It’s awful. Nobody should have to deal with that. Prayers go out to the families and everybody involved. That goes from myself to the players to the whole Lions community. It’s awful.”

The tragedy struck members of the Lions in different ways. For defensive line coach Todd Wash, it evoked memories of Columbine, a school he recruited as the head coach of Fort Lewis College (Durango, Colo.) in 1999, when two students gunned down 13 at the high school before taking their own lives.

“I was in Denver, so it hits home,” Wash said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them. It hits, just because we all have children and when they go to school they should be safe. That’s not the case, so that hits a little bit with all of us, as a parent.”

Quarterback Jared Goff couldn’t help but think back to 2018, during his third season with the Los Angeles Rams, when a gunman killed a dozen people before taking his own life at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“You never think it’s going to happen so close to you and so close to home,” Goff said. “Our thoughts are with them and their families and I know myself and all of my teammates and our team will be looking for ways to help and support and really be that positive light for these people right now in such a hard time.”

In addition to financial assistance, the Rams made an effort to connect personally with the victims of the 2018 tragedy, meeting with many of the families and hosting them for a Monday Night Football game against the Chiefs.

Those interactions have stuck with Goff.

“It was just a special night and to see them after the game just a week removed from losing a family member,” Goff said. “The light of joy that we can provide to people in times like that, it’s not to be understated. It’s part of our responsibility I think as leaders of the community and just what we’re able to do to help raise those people up and be there for them.”

Beyond the reverberation of tragic echoes, Campbell and linebacker Alex Anzalone have a personal connection to the Oxford community. Prior to coming to Detroit, both spent three years with fullback Zach Line in New Orleans. The Oxford native has since concluded his NFL career and returned home, where he serves as the school’s head football coach.

One of Line’s players, Tate Myre, was among the four victims who lost their lives, along with Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17 and Justin Shilling, 17, who succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday.

Campbell admitted he knew Line was coaching in Michigan, but hadn’t connected the dots to Oxford prior to Wednesday morning. The Lions coach vowed to reach out later in the day to offer his support.

Anzalone reached out via text shortly after hearing the news and said he feels his former teammate is the ideal person to help navigate young people through this horrific experience.

“Just the way he approached everything, the way he led by example and did his job and demanded accountability, he was always reliable,” Anzalone said. “I think he was never too high, never too low. Like I said, as unthinkable of a situation this is, in my opinion, I think God put him in this situation for a reason, and he’ll be able to lead that community.”

Of course, nothing elevates our ability to empathize in these situations more than being a parent. Both Campbell and Wash have high school-aged children, which made Tuesday’s shooting resonate on a personal level.

“We had the discussions, last night, before we got out of here just about being safe, seeing some of the warning signs with teammates,” Wash said, choking up with emotion. “He plays football down there. If you see something, you’ve got to say something. It’s a scary, scary deal. As parents, we’ve got to do a better job in the United States raising our kids. That’s how I feel, but I don’t want to get into all that stuff.”

Campbell shared similar sentiments.

“I just reached out to (my daughter) this morning and told her, ‘Have a good day,” Campbell said. “Just want to make sure she knows I care about her. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re not guaranteed anything on this earth, man. You just live each moment like it could be your last because you don’t know. That’s kind of the reality behind it. It’s awful.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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