Tucker Shelton and Dalton Underwood have been friends and teammates for some time now.
The LaRue County seniors are on the offensive and defensive lines.
Sure, they are opposites in ways, but football is a game both love and enjoy.
Unfortunately for the pair, they have something in common in events that happened 34 days apart.
They lost their fathers.
Michael Shelton passed away on July 1.
Anthony Underwood died on Aug. 4.
“I got a phone call,” Shelton said. “I was on vacation with his brother at Lake Cumberland. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. Dad was the person I was closest to in my life. We did everything together.”
“My mom came and picked me up from my friend’s house because she didn’t want me driving,” Underwood said. “She didn’t tell me anything. She waited until we got home. It took my breath away. It didn’t seem real. The day of his funeral it finally set it. That was a tough day.
“Me and my dad were really close. He always came to all the games. He was really proud of me and all that. He was a big supporter. No matter what, I want to make him proud up there.”
The loss means both athletes must fill a void in their lives.
“It’s another motivator, trying every day to make him proud, like he would want me to. He loved football — never missed a game,” said Shelton, who is also ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class in wrestling. “Dad was a special dude. He wouldn’t want me sitting around crying all the time. Football was kind of our thing. I know he wouldn’t want me to do anything else than play football this year. Every play is for that dude. I just want to keep making him proud. I know he’s gonna be watching.
“Depending on who you are, people cope different. There’s no way you can plan that. You still hurt every day. It’s not something you get over. It’s something you have to live with. It’s something I face every day.”
Underwood said he misses the time with his dad, not necessarily the activity.
“When I was a kid back in elementary school and middle school, we would mess around and just throw the football around,” he said. “We did all kinds of stuff together. We used to be real tight. We did everything together, from go karts to football to basketball.”
He said his father was front and center for last year’s run to the Class 3-A state semifinals.
“He loved the playoff run,” Underwood said. “Last year was a special year. He loved every minute of it.”
For Shelton, it’s now all about activity.
“I try to stay as busy as I can, go out with friends, especially when it was fresh,” Shelton said. “Nobody wanted me to be sitting alone, because that’s when the depression really sinks in. You want to be doing as much as you can and football has helped with that.
“My friends and my teammates were everything. They were all there as soon as I got back from vacation. They were there to pick me up. They cried with me. They laughed with me. They are good people and they mean the world to me.”
It’s now down to the business at hand for both players.
“You’ve got to lead your team as a senior,” Underwood said. “I’ve got a lot of expectations for this team. We’ve got some new guys and I’m really looking forward to it. I think we’re gonna do really good. We might make a run deep in the playoffs again. That was real fun.”
Underwood and Shelton were part of an offensive line that paved the way for 4,258 yards and 49 touchdowns last year.
“Last year’s line was really good, but I think we can be really good this year, too,” said Underwood, who has been moved to center. “Me transitioning to center has been good. I like the transition from tackle or guard. It’s a lot easier. It’s easier to remember your blocking schemes. It’s either on or away. You don’t have to pull or anything like that.
“It was just something about playing center and snapping balls that I wasn’t sure about. I tried it during spring ball and it seemed like it came natural to me.”
Shelton added, “I like the fact we’re not worrying what we lost from Anthony (Adkins) going to Army and Dailliss (Cox) moving on. We have a ton of guys who are ready to step up. Instead of rebuilding, we’re reloading. That’s my favorite part about this team. The younger guys haven’t skipped a beat and this has been a great first four weeks of practice.”
In the meantime, Underwood and Shelton will go through each day as their new normal.
Shelton will do so with a new truck.
“It was Father’s Day,” he said. “I always had a jeep and my dad wanted me to have something a little safer. He bought me a 2001 Ford F-150. We were so happy to get it. I don’t care what happens, I’ll always hang onto that truck.”
The Hawks open their season Friday at Glasgow.
“I just want to win as many games as we can,” Underwood said. “He loved watching me play high school football. He wants me to take it to the next level. We’ll see where that goes.”
Shelton is also looking at playing at the next level.
“My plan is to play college football, although I’m not sure where yet,” he said. “Offers can be hard to come by. You never know what’s going to happen. Life’s full of surprises.”