By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/1/12
His locker is a shrine to his value as a teammate, and his legacy lives despite spending just one year at Marist College.
The Red Foxes men’s lacrosse team has dedicated its season to Eddie Coombs’ memory. And they did their good friend proud last Saturday by opening the campaign with a 12-10 victory over host Sacred Heart.
One of the stars of the game was freshman attackman Colin Joka, a Plymouth Whitemarsh grad who played with Coombs on the Rebel Elite club team. Joka, like his teammates and the Philly and Marist communities, was devastated last August when the popular Hatboro-Horsham alum died in a one-car accident in Horsham Township after enjoying a strong freshman year at Marist.
Coombs, a standout on the Hatters’ state-qualifying team in 2010, was a major reason Joka decided to attend Marist. So when Joka scored on each of his shots Sunday, he said, “Those were for you Eddie.”
“It’s definitely hard to play without him,” Joka said. “One of my goals was to play with him. Now, each and everyone of us play not only for ourselves, but for Eddie.
“We know he will be up there watching us. It’s sad he is not here, but we play for him and we dedicate each game for him by playing our hardest.”
Joka scored first to help the Red Foxes take a 3-1 lead and then added a second goal to pad the margin to 9-4. Marist is expected to challenge this year in the Metro Atlantic Athletics Conference (MAAC) after qualifying for the league playoffs the past two seasons.
“It was always my dream to play Division I college lacrosse,” said Joka. “I used to sit and watch all the college games and think to myself how sick it would be to play against these players. I never thought it would come true, or that I could start right away.
The game also was a big moment for Red Foxes rookie coach Keegan Wilkinson, a four-year starter and two-time captain at St. Joseph University who spent the last four years as an assistant at Marist.
Wilkinson and the team has kept Coombs’ locker intact with his No. 34 jersey as the centerpiece. Each week one of the players is given the honor of wearing the No. 34 jersey based on their efforts in practice and in the previous game. The letters “EC” are sewn onto every jersey and the team will begin giving out the “Edward coombs Outstanding Freshman Award” each season. Eddie was the first winner.
“One thing we have done is dedicate his locker from last year,” Wilkinson said. “We put all of his equipment and a picture and some pieces of poetry with Plexiglass over it. It remain there forever. It’s pretty cool; the jersey is hanging up in there.
“You walk in the locker room and see Eddie’s locker preserved as it was. It’s easy to get motivated. The biggest thing is performing every day at a very high level. You can wear as many patches and decals – which we certainly do – but the way to represent him best, is as Eddie would have it, by working so hard every day.
“We did have a patch made for each jersey that reads ‘EC’ over the right heart. It’s an easy reminder. Obviously, the biggest honor each week is to be the guy selected to wear Eddie’s actual jersey. On Sunday when we opened with Sacred Heart it was neat seeing one of his classmates (Gannon Osborn) wearing his jersey.”
Wilkinson said Joka – who led the Colonials to their first Suburban One American Conference title and was named All-Phillylacrosse.com High Honorable Mention last year – has many of the same attributes as Coombs.
“He started in the first game of his career and he scored two goals,” said Wilkinson. “He had a great man-up shot from the outside that he ripped. He was 2-for-2 in shooting; we need to generate more shots for him. He certainly can finish.
“It’s no surprise. When we were recruiting him he was a tough kid who could obviously fit in very well with the guys we had. Colin is a nice addition and we have a very strong attack.”
Joka said the Marist team had already been like a family before the tragedy. But losing Coombs has drawn the players even closer.
“I like the program; it’s pretty much a big family,” Joka said. “Everything we do, we do it for each other. We always have each other’s backs. You are looking for the extra pass. You trust them all; even off the field. We are always hanging out with one another.
“I understand that’s why he (Eddie) came here. I am glad I came here as well. I see that now.”
Tags: Plymouth Whitemarsh