ARIMO — Surrounded by his friends at a Mormon church mutual, it was Marcos Gil’s turn to talk about death.

When asked how he would spend his final minutes on Earth, Gil said he wanted to save a friend or a loved one before dying. That conversation happened nearly a year before the 17-year-old Gil drowned April 28, 2018, in the Portneuf River at Lava Hot Springs while saving his girlfriend.

Gil jumped into the river and helped her out of the waterway before drowning.

One of those in attendance at the mutual was Adam Hebdon, a teammate of Gil’s on Marsh Valley’s football team. Gil’s actions and words have stuck with Hebdon and the Eagles.

Gil’s tragic death is a rallying point for the Eagles’ 2018 season. Gil is on the mind’s of the Marsh Valley community as the Eagles get ready to face Sugar-Salem on Friday at Holt Area in the quarterfinals of the 3A state playoffs in what would have been Gil’s senior season.

“He went out like a hero,” Hebdon said. “We needed to honor him. He was friends with everyone. What we did was fitting for who he was.”

‘WE DON’T WANT HIM TO BE FORGOTTEN’

Gil’s presence is noticeable every time Marsh Valley steps on the field.

His name is listed on the roster next to the No. 12. He is announced as a starter before games, and the Eagles have a sticker on the back of their helmets with his initials on it.

Gil’s No. 12 jersey is also brought out for the pregame coin toss by the team’s captains before it is placed at the 12-yard line with a No. 12 helmet. The two mementos lay on the field and are placed on a shelf dedicated to Gil in the Eagles’ equipment closet after the game.

Gil’s jersey and helmet also ride to every road game next to coach Doug Armstrong on the team’s bus.

“We wanted him represented at every game. … The helmet stickers are an individual reminder for each player about who and why we dedicated our play this year,” Armstrong said.

The Eagles’ former teammate has become the squad’s 12th man this season, a constant reminder of what the team is playing for during their most successful season in seven years.

Marsh Valley finished the regular season 6-2, won its first 3A District 5 title since 2011 and earned a first-round bye at state.

“We wanted to commemorate him,” Marsh Valley two-way player Tanner Branson said. “We don’t want him to be forgotten. We want to play for him. … It’s to help the morale of the people around him. We want to keep him around.”

After the Eagles beat Snake River on Oct. 5, Marsh Valley’s first win over its district rival since 2011, the Eagles brought one of Gil’s jerseys to the bleachers and handed it to his family.

Gil’s loved ones were also involved in a ceremony before the Eagles’ game Oct. 19 against American Falls. It was the regular-season finale and senior night, so Gil’s family was presented with balloons and flowers and took a picture with the seniors and the team.

When the Eagles secured their district title with a win over the Beavers, the team’s 12 seniors took a picture with the trophy.

Front and center were Gil’s jersey and helmet.

“Everything we are doing this season is for Marcos,” Hebdon said. “It’s awesome we could have a part of him with us and celebrate him.”

‘HE IS A SPECIAL PERSON’

Gil made an impact last season despite not playing a down.

He couldn’t play on game day because he was academically ineligible, but Gil did whatever he could to help as a member of the team. Gil would collect the pylons after practice, grab pinnies or footballs for drills, run extra sprints and play on the scout team.

Gil would also give hugs, high-fives or handshakes to his teammates after every practice.

“If he saw you after practice, he’d come up to you and say something good you did that day,” Branson said. “The love he had for us was unmatched.

“He knew what his job in life was. He was there to help other people. He was as selfless as they come.”

Gil went the extra mile for the Eagles, so the Marsh Valley did everything it could to honor him. During the school’s graduation last spring, a candlelit vigil was held at the school’s baseball field for Gil.

Hundreds of people came to support Gil’s family and remember their classmate. Everyone in attendance was given a candle, the family spoke, and the candles were then placed on the pitcher’s mound, where Gil’s loved ones blew them out.

At Gil’s funeral, the football squad wore their jerseys and acted as ushers. The football team also presented Gil’s family with his red No. 12 jersey in a frame.

“He is a special person,” Marsh Valley senior lineman Jacob McNabb said. “We wanted to show his parents that.”

‘THIS GAME IS FOR MARCOS’

Marsh Valley hasn’t won a playoff game since 2011.

The Eagles made state last season for the first time since 2011 but lost to the Diggers in a 35-0 rout. Marsh Valley has made strides since that defeat and hit benchmarks this season with its success.

The squad is trending in the right direction, and Friday’s game will be a monumental moment for everyone in Arimo.

“I already know that coach Armstrong is going to say, ‘This game is for Marcos. Give it your all,’” McNabb said.

Source: The Associated Press

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