INDEPENDENCE — When Central senior Isaiah Abraham scored the game-winning touchdown against Glencoe, he raised a finger to the sky.
Yes, Abraham helped the Panthers earn a victory. In truth, football was the last thing on his mind.
The moment was a lasting tribute to his uncle, Brian.
The bond Isaiah and Brian shared went beyond family.
“I have a picture of him when he was little on a big canvas,” Abraham said. “He has on this big Superman costume. He really was my hero.”
After each game, Brian would call or text Isaiah. He was there to support him, encourage him and talk football with him.
“He didn’t have any kids, so he kind of looked at me as his son,” Abraham said. “He was someone who was always supportive of me no matter what I did.”
Abraham made sure Brian was always close to his heart.
“(I keep) a text telling my uncle that he was my hero,” Abraham said. “He replied telling me how much he loved me. It means a lot to me.”
Earlier this year, Abraham lost his hero.
Brian died of cancer in February. This fall was the first football season without him.
“It was tough going through the season without him, but I knew he was watching over me. That touchdown was for him and I wanted to have a good season for him,” Abraham said.
The senior defensive back/receiver delivered in spades.
Abraham led the Panthers in receiving with 22 catches for 495 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, he had 58 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. But more than stats, it was his leadership and perseverance that made Abraham the Itemizer-Observer’s Player of the Year.
Entering his junior season, things were looking up for Abraham. As a sophomore, he became a starter on varsity.
He was ready to play an even bigger role as safety on defense and as a receiver on offense.
He was also receiving interest from numerous colleges — including some Division I schools.
During the summer, he worked with his dad on training and entered stronger, quicker and smarter than ever before.
On Sept. 30, the Panthers played rival Dallas when Abraham injured his ankle.
“After the injuries, the DI schools kind of dropped away,” he said. “That was tough. Junior year is your biggest year for recruiting, especially for DI schools. That left me devastated.”
Abraham attempted to return later in the season, but coaches pulled him out because of the pain, he said. In the immediate weeks after, Abraham could barely move his ankle.
Those closest to him – his teammates, family and friends — wouldn’t let him stay down for long.
“I had a great support system,” Abraham said.
He began the long road back, working on movement in his ankle, before being able to walk without a boot, then jog and run. It was hard and frustrating at times, but Abraham stayed the course. Slowly, he regained strength and balance in his ankle.
When the Panthers took the field this year, he was ready to be one of Central’s leaders.
“Isaiah can be a game-changer with his knowledge of football and his physical prowess,” coach Shane Hedrick said. “He has a unique style of being in position to make plays and take advantage of the opponents weaknesses.”
Abraham has drawn interest from a few Division II and Division I universities, including Portland State and an Ivy League school. He’s not sure where he'll end up.
He just knows every snap he plays, every class he takes, and everything he does honors his hero.
“Let’s hope I can do some good in the future for him,” Abraham said.