Whitney High School athlete and outstanding offensive player in the 2011 Quarry Bowl Christian Daniels died in a tragic motorcycle accident this summer. The popular student ran for 79 yards on 11 carries and caught five passes for 102 yards against Rocklin. He also scored four touchdowns in helping his team earn a hard-fought 48-34 victory. The young man described as having “the best smile” would have received his diploma in June. Sadly, such tragedies are not that rare. Many of us can recall a similar event from our youth and remember the emotional struggle of loss. Suddenly, the invincibility of youth is shaken and we are faced with the reality of our own mortality. Tragic, indeed, but it leaves behind a process that draws a family, friends, teammates, and even communities closer together in a way victories never could. That was remarkably evident among those who knew Christian, played with him, and even coached him. “I think, in some terms, it set a lot of kids back,” Whitney football head coach Michael Gimenez said of the impact Christian’s death has had on his team. “And in other terms it made them realize how important and how special this time in their life is.” Gimenez spoke of how his players have come to realize in a much greater way just how much they mean to one another. He said players, coaches, and the school have just started to work through the emotions of painful loss and are beginning to focus on how special life really is. Of course, it will take time for some to deal with the loss, especially those closest to Christian. But, the community did rally with a candlelight vigil at Wildcats Stadium where a large No. 9, Christian’s jersey number, has been emblazoned on the hill behind the east end zone. “I still think about it. He made such a big impact on the school. He made the school a lot closer; like all the students got closer after this happened,” said senior Shelby Taylor, manager of the Whitney football team. “The healing is going to take a while, but after a few years we’ll be able to get over it.” Taylor, a softball player, said Christian made the most of his 18 years and knew how to make people laugh and smile. He even came out to offer his support when the softball team earned a spot in the playoffs. There does seem to be a different feeling on the Whitney campus, but it isn’t one of sadness. It is more of rejuvenation and recommitment. Not that the Wildcats lacked spirit, but now there’s more of a combined willingness to give it their all. “It brought us closer. It brought the whole town, the city, together,” said senior offensive lineman Aaron Froidevaux, who referred to the Wildcats as family. “I believe it’s helped our team work harder and do everything that Christian would want us to do.” His words, and those of Taylor’s, reflect a remarkable maturity in light of the circumstances; a credit to them, their teammates, and their school. Christian’s smile, his attitude, and his influence may now be a memory, but his No. 9 will serve as a constant reminder of just how valuable life is.