A few days before his father lost his battle to cancer, Northwood junior Collin Weir and his family weren’t sure if he’d talk again.
Keith Weir was in hospice care and had been in a medically-induced coma for about a week before his final moments.
Despite his condition, his wife and Collin’s mother, Heather Weir, spoke a miracle into existence. It wasn’t more time to complete the couple’s dream of moving to Florida once the kids moved out, like she hoped, but it was another chance for Keith to leave a final message to the family he loved so much.
Part of that message was telling his 16-year-old son that he was proud of him and that he was sorry.
After Keith’s passing on April 3, the responsibilities of being there for his mom and his 12-year-old sister now landed on Collin’s shoulders. Weir had to hold himself together while grieving, leaving football as the medium through which he could let his emotions out.
Weir’s introduction to the sport was just visual at the start. His father, a native of Rhode Island, watched the Patriots on Sundays, bringing Weir into the world of the NFL to fall in love with Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers.
Once middle school ended for Weir, he decided to take it a step further and follow his dad’s footsteps by playing high school ball. Weir’s father played tight end in his high school days.
“If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be playing football,” Weir said.
On the field, Weir’s freshman and sophomore years with junior varsity were rather forgettable as he was still learning the game and dealing with setbacks, including a concussion during the spring going into his second year.
“Sophomore year, I was on J.V. because I didn’t really have the motivation to play,” Weir said. “I was just there to make my mom and my dad proud of me for playing a sport for school.”
However, those were the seasons that his father got to see — and wanted to see, despite his physical limitations.
Before Weir was born, his father suffered a broken back after diving into the short end of a pool, and it left him needing a yearly medical procedure to help with the pain. Four years ago, one of the procedures was done incorrectly, killing the blood flow to his hip.
Keith was forced to walk with a cane for a year before needing crutches thereafter.
“Last football season, his dad was unable to pretty much walk,” Weir’s mother said. “He couldn’t climb the bleachers to sit, but we would pull the truck up as close as we could to the fence, and he would sit there. And for the whole entire game, my husband would sit there with binoculars and watch Collin.”
To find that motivation for the sport, Weir decided to change his approach to football ahead of his junior year. He began to go harder in the weight room and study more film.
Weir also got a fresh start with Mitch Johnson becoming the new head coach at Northwood in the winter.
One day in February, Weir’s mother picked him up from school with tears in her eyes. She told him to wait for his dad to explain why.
After entering the house, he saw his sister crying in her room before walking into his dad’s room to hear the bad news.
“He says, ‘the doctors called me and I have three to six months,’” Weir said.
Weir was just six months from showing him the payoff from all his hard work during the offseason.
He actually hit a new personal record for power clean, cleaning 215 pounds, hours before his father’s passing.
That night, Weir visited his father in hospice and shared a dinner with family and friends. When they went back to sit with his father a second time, Weir felt he knew something was going to happen.
“All of a sudden I go to look at my phone to see what time it was, and I just hear everybody gasp,” Weir said.
Weir didn’t have a lot of time to sit in his room and process what happened. Shortly after, his uncle, Glyn Weir, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, suggested he get up and be productive to get his mind off it.
“I felt like I had to step up in the house,” Weir said. “Get a job. Become the man of the house.”
At home, that meant doing what his father would do.
“He has been amazing, even with tedious little things,” Weir’s mother said. “Like, say I need to put windshield wiper fluid in my truck. He does it. Before, Keith would do that. Anything that needs to be done, taking out the trash — or anything. I don’t have to ask him to do it.”
At Northwood, stepping up meant taking care of his own business.
Just a few days after his father’s death, Weir was right back in the weight room with his teammates, preparing for his first year of varsity football.
“It’s a fuel,” Johnson said. “He has his days, but who wouldn’t? I always check and make sure, and whether he’s emotionally tired, he doesn’t make that as an excuse. He’s got a couple of injuries with his ankles, and he just doesn’t stop. He works super hard.”
Weir has also maintained stellar grades, continuing to make his family and coaches proud of his work ethic and how well he has managed the events of the past few months.
“He’s handled it better than I thought he would because him and his dad were very, very, very close,” Weir’s mother said. “He has a love and passion for football, and he told me that if he got a pick and ran a touchdown, he was going to get on his knee and point to heaven because he knew that his dad was watching him.”
This season, Weir, wearing the same No. 18 that his grandfather and his mom’s brother wore at Northwood, has emerged as a leader by action on defense. He’s been sticking his nose into contact and landing big hits as 5-foot-9 linebacker.
“He was laying people out (against) Union Pines,” Johnson said. “I think the first moment we saw he's a little bit different this year, I mean he just laid the wood on somebody way bigger than him. He just got up and was feeling pretty good.”
Usually a quiet person off the field, Weir has been playing with visible emotion, looking like a “bull” in action and holding his arms out like a “lion” when he makes tackles, according to his mother.
Weir’s father is always watching, and with every play, there’s an opportunity to honor his final message.
“Before every game, I just think about my dad watching overhead because he has the best seat,” Weir said. “So, he can watch me perfectly every single play. If we have a kickoff, I always think that that guy is trying to disrespect me, my dad and my family. And I just use all that anger, and I just go ahead and try to put that man in the dirt.”