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Chippewa Valley senior Nick Ureel led the Big Reds out onto the field in their season-opener against Dearborn last fall. (Submitted Photo)


Saying goodbye to Nick Ureel

You want tough?

You’re probably thinking a guy who can easily bench 550 pounds and has skin the texture of beef jerky.

You want grit?

All right, so now you’re probably thinking about a guy whose face stubble could sand graffiti off buildings and whose voice makes James Earl Jones sound like one of the Vienna Choir Boys.

Your want real-life tough?

Undoubtedly that was Nick Ureel, a senior at Chippewa Valley High School, who passed away Thursday morning after a courageous battle with cancer.

"If we don't learn a million life lessons from a young man like Nick Ureel, shame on us," said Scott Merchant, the football coach at Chippewa Valley. "Nick was always positive. He was never bitter or said `Why me?' He always had a smile on his face. He lived his life to the fullest. Nick had resiliency and he had spirit.

“I had football class Thursday and there were 70 guys in it and we all just sat and talked about Nick and the good memories we had. At the end of class, I challenged them to go home and actually tell those that you love that you loved them. As coaches, we always tell our guys to play like it's your last play, and that should be a lesson in life, too. Live like it's your last day because you never know."

Nick Ureel's last play for the Big Reds came as a sophomore. When he did not show up bright and early on the first day of football camp as a junior, the coaches at Chippewa Valley knew something wasn’t right.

“I mean, Nick came to absolutely everything related to football," said Merchant. "You never had to worry about him being at workouts or anything else. When he did not show up on opening day, we called his home to make sure things were all right. Nick and his mom came to practice Wednesday of that week. Nick’s back was really hurting and he didn't know if he'd be able to play."

A week or so later, the unbearable diagnosis was made. Nick Ureel had testicular cancer.

Despite the ensuing array of treatment plans that included surgeries and incessant chemotherapy, Nick was always on the sidelines for his beloved Chippewa Valley Big Reds. Even though he couldn’t play, he was happy to be with his friends and classmates. Much more specifically, Nick was very happy to be with his fellow offensive linemen.

"After we'd score, or after a series would be over, the offensive linemen would come off the field and sit on their bench, and Nick was always right there with them," said Merchant. “He was there to encourage them, or to cheer along with them.”

Nick did not just sit. Do you want to know tough? Do you want to know grit? Chippewa Valley opened its 2013 season against Dearborn at Wayne State University. Nick was coming off surgery and had told the coaches he wasn’t sure if he would be at the game. But a day or two before kickoff, he showed up at practice. Inspiration is much more than just a word in the Merriam Webster dictionary.

"We wanted Nick to lead us out onto the field carrying an American flag," said Merchant. "But I was worried about him. Before we went out, I told Nick aside that it was all right to just take it easy, that he could walk if he wanted to. I didn't want him overdoing it."

So what does Nick Ureel do? He told his coach that “we don’t walk onto a football field.” He took off running, waving the flag and smiling like he was auditioning for a Crest tooth paste commercial. All of his fired up teammates followed. Chippewa Valley beat Dearborn that day, 27-20, in a double overtime thriller. The victory was clinched when Alex Marko intercepted a pass. Alex told Nick that interception was for him.

The Big Reds raced off the field and huddled up in exultation and right in the middle of the joyful melee was Nick Ureel.

“Nick was at every game. He was a huge inspiration to everybody in the program. Despite everything he went through with the treatments, he always had a smile on his face. He was always so positive. He was just a special kid and a special young man. I learned a lot from him. I think a lot of us did. Not just about football but about life.”

Nick Ureel was tough. He was real-life tough.

Last Updated: 4/25/2014 10:40:35 PM EST