Park View sophomore quarterback C.J. Leizear stood on the Patriots' home field for several minutes after leading his team to its first victory of the season Friday night. He wasn't yet aware his 371 yards passing in the 46-23 win against Broad Run had set a new school record. At that moment, he didn't much care.
As his teammates headed toward a celebration in the locker room, Leizear waited for his family. One look from his father, Steve, as he made his way toward him on the field, and the strength C.J. had shown all week slipped away. He collapsed into his father's outstretched arms and sobbed quietly.
Leizear's grandfather, Franklin V. Leizear, 78, had died that Monday afternoon with his 15-year-old grandson sitting at his bedside in his Rockville home. It was something Leizear had chosen not to tell his teammates during the week.
"I didn't want to have the focus on me," he said. "I wanted everyone's head in the game and didn't want them worrying about me. But a couple of people knew."
Leizear had shared the news with his two closest friends, sophomore wide receivers Danny Foley and Derrick Davenport, whom he said he turned to for comfort throughout the week. A few others on the team had heard about his loss, but it was not directly addressed until the team dinner Thursday night at a Sterling pizzeria -- the day of his grandfather's funeral -- when standout junior tailback Deric Dudinski approached Leizear and hugged him, saying, "I'm sorry."
"I was surprised, thinking 'How did he know?' " Leizear said. "But that was a really big moment for me. I just felt that he and I were on the same page. I felt his comfort, and it meant a lot to me."
Franklin Leizear had been suffering from lung cancer for more than a year. The cancer had spread to his brain, and the family knew he was getting worse. But when C.J. Leizear called his mother from school Monday morning and asked if she would pick him up and take him to Rockville, she hesitated.
"I thought we still had a few days, so I told him we'd go visit his granddad later in the week," Maura Leizear said. "You know, I thought he was just trying to get out of an afternoon class or something. But it was very weird. He said, 'No, I really want to go now.' It was like he knew."
Maura picked up her son from school around noon, and as she drove he explained he didn't want to regret not seeing his granddad -- not "shaking his hand" -- one last time.
C.J. Leizear arrived in Rockville and joined his dad at his grandfather's bedside around 12:45 p.m. Franklin Leizear died approximately 15 minutes later.
"I was right there," C.J. said. "And I did what I wanted. I got to shake his hand one more time. But it was the hardest thing I've ever been through."
About an hour later, Leizear and his mother climbed in the car and headed back to Sterling, where football practice awaited.
"C.J. is like a younger brother to me," Coach Andy Hill said. "And I knew he wouldn't have left school unless it was very serious, so I was a little surprised when I saw him come back in, but not entirely. C.J. has two families, and he treats the team like one. So I just went up and put my arm around him.
"Sometimes things don't need to be said."
Leizear fought back tears a few times during the week's practice sessions but mostly tried to focus on football and his playbook. He missed a part of practice Thursday to attend the funeral but was at the school by the time the team captains were handing out game jerseys, a weekly tradition, and went to the team dinner.
"When we were at dinner I heard Deric tell him he was sorry, and I didn't know what they were talking about," senior captain Andre Allen said. "To find out later he had been through something like that and then still came out and played the way he did? I don't know if I could have done it."
Leizear, who dedicated the game to his grandfather, showed poise and patience throughout, completing 15 of 24 passes for a school-record 371 yards and four touchdowns.
"We were just so happy for him because he had had such a horrible week," Maura Leizear said. "It was such a low in his life. And I was just happy for him that he was at the other end of the pendulum and on a high. A lot of kids don't see their granddad take his last breath."
C.J. played the entire game with a small fabric cross in his right sock. He had received the cross at his grandfather's funeral, and Foley was the only player who knew he had it tucked away.
"It was amazing," said Foley, who had a 74-yard touchdown reception. "I was kind of getting choked up myself out there because I knew all that he had had to go through. He just did such a great job coping with it."
"You never know how a 15-year-old will react when he does something like dedicate the game to his grandfather," Hill said. "What if he threw only two complete passes? How would that have affected him? But to play the way he did . . . he will never forget this as long as he lives."