NEWARK, Ohio (WCMH) — Last year the Newark Catholic Green Wave’s season ended in the OHSAA state semifinals at the hands of Warren JFK.  

This year, the two teams met again in the same round, and Newark Cath would not be denied a state final berth a second time.  

“We wanted that revenge game, and we got it,” said Green Wave senior Elijah Wallace with a smile.  

Newark Catholic took down Warren JFK 14-7, and now are in a position to win the program’s 9th state title. 
 
“It’s a dream for all high school football players to get to the state championship and we get to play in it,” said senior Cole Canter.  

And after what this team has been through this season, they are ready for any challenge.  

“Crying together as brothers is something different,” Elijah said. “Going to a funeral together, that’s something different.” 
 
“That was the hardest thing I went through in my life I can positively say,” added fellow senior Daniel Gray.  

Daniel’s family has been involved with Newark Catholic football for years, as his older brother, Alex, also played for the Green Wave. Alex is the reason Daniel fell in love with football in the first place.  
 
“Even back when we used to play, like, little league football up at Reynoldsburg, you know, he started playing and a year later I joined the program, because I wanted to be like my brother,” Daniel said. “My brother was my whole world.” 

This fall, Daniel’s world came crashing down as Alex battled COVID-19.  
 
“We all kinda got it at the same time. I feel like we are a strong family. We bonded together, you know, we were going to beat this thing together,” Daniel said. “[My dad and I] both bounced back together really fast. My mom was also hospitalized, but she got out a couple days later. But Alex didn’t.” 

Alex Gray died from COVID-19 at 21 years old.  

“It was a hit not only to the football team but the entire Newark Catholic community,” said Ryan Aiello, the Green Wave’s head football coach who coached Alex his senior year.

“Our community was absolutely incredible in their outreach: providing meals to the family, even mowing their lawn, providing shirts and fundraisers to help support the family with everything that they were going through. It was incredible to see not just our football kids response, our coaches response because of that, but just the overall Newark Catholic community.” 

After some time away, Daniel rejoined his Green Wave football family.  

“To kind of get some sort of normalcy,” Aiello explained. “You know we wanted football and just getting back to school to be an outlet for him emotionally.” 

But Daniel felt changed and he wanted to show that. 

“I switched my jersey number to 78. Alex, he chose that number,” Daniel said. “He wore that number with pride and you know I always looked up to Alex. I always strived to be like him. I remember I promised him I would take care of his number and I would play in his honor.”

Now, Daniel hopes to honor his brother by hoisting a state championship trophy wearing that jersey number; and before kickoff, during pregame prayer, he will be speaking directly to Alex.

“I’m going to give you my all. You know it’s the last time I’ll ever wear your number. I’m going to get out there, give you everything I have, I’m going to give this team everything I have, and I’m not going to let you down.”