Alex Grace makes sure Lucas Isom’s No. 9 remains a constant force in Swan Valley football program
on October 19, 2013 8:07 a.m.
THOMAS TOWNSHIP, MI — There’s a reason Alex Grace wears a No. 9 on his chest.It’s to cover the hole in his heart.The Swan Valley junior eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season in Friday’s 42-14 win over Bullock Creek, but it’s the first for No. 9.Grace is a candidate for the Michigan High School Football Player of the Year.No. 9 belonged to Lucas Isom. Grace traded in his No. 35 to honor Isom, the former Swan Valley quarterback, former workout partner, former Western Michigan University student and former lifeguard.For Grace, the “formers” are an ever-present reminder of Aug. 10, less than three months ago, when Isom swerved to avoid a vehicle making a left-hand turn. His 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer hit a curb and rolled. Isom was ejected from the car and was declared dead at the scene. He was 19.“It felt like I got hit behind the stomach,” Grace said. “I still can’t shake that feeling.”Isom might have been in the best shape of his life. During the summer, he began working out with Grace at the Saginaw Athletic Club. He was best friends with Grace’s older brother, Johnathon Grace. They were both 2012 graduates and members of the 2011 Swan Valley starting backfield, Isom at quarterback and Johnathon Grace at tailback.They had been friends since the third grade, while Alex was always the third wheel, the little brother of the Isom-Grace trilogy.That changed this summer, when Isom and Alex Grace became workout partners and best friends too. Isom, Grace says, had a habit of turning people into best friends.Isom became a lifeguard at Roethke Pool and worked at Apple Mountain Golf Course, fixing divots on the course. He was living at home with his parents, Tom and Michelle Isom, after they had returned from Arizona.
“It was supposed to be the best time of our lives,” his mom, Michelle Isom, says. “We had just moved back from Arizona, coming back home the week before. We were with Lucas. It was a wonderful, wonderful week.”Until that Saturday.“Hey Mom,” Lucas yelled from the kitchen. “Can you bring me a sandwich later today, around 3?”Michelle Isom smiled. Her son was on his way to Roethke Pool to work as a lifeguard.“It would be an honor to bring you lunch,” she answered.Lucas Isom walked to the door.“I love you Mom,” Lucas Isom said. “See you later.”Five minutes later, a little before 10 a.m., Michelle Isom got a phone call. There had been a crash on Gratiot, near Miller, and it was bad.“I would have been truly honored,” Michelle Isom says today, “to bring him that sandwich.“As a mom, you take care of your boy. Now that he’s gone, I realize how much he took care of me. His laugh would light up a room. He brought out the best in people. I miss that. I miss hearing his laugh.”Some of the proceeds from Friday’s 50-50 drawing went to the Lucas Isom Scholarship Fund, but the Isoms are working toward something bigger. They hope to raise enough money through the Lucas Isom Memorial Foundation to build an athletic training facility for the Swan Valley school district.“Lucas touched many, many people,” Michelle Isom said. “We wanted to do a scholarship in Lucas’ name, but we also wanted to do something bigger, to reach more people and to keep Lucas’ spirit alive. The training facility is our big goal.”Anyone wishing to contribute money to the foundation can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 989-737-1838.“Every day is hard for Tom and myself,” Michelle Isom said. “Our lives have changed totally. I know they will never be the same. There is an emptiness in our hearts. But I absolutely love and treasure when people ask us about Lucas or talk about him.“The day that people stop asking about Lucas, that might be the day I fear most of all.”Lucas Isom was heading into his sophomore year at Western Michigan, where he was studying to become an air traffic controller. He was also working with a friend, Cameron Fauver, on an automatic divot replacer. They had built a prototype.Lucas showed his parents the device.“Don’t worry Mom and Dad,” he told them. “I’m going to take care of you forever.”The Isoms spent Friday in the Swan Valley stands, cheering for No. 9 again.“Everybody was a friend to Lucas, the Graces especially,” Michelle Isom said. “I can’t remember many nights when he didn’t have a bunch of his friends over to the house. He’d walk into a room where all the guys were and say, ‘Hello ladies, how are we doing today?’“I remember he had to give a speech to the team his senior year. We heard so many comments from those players about that speech. I know that meant a lot to him. I loved watching him out there playing.”On Friday, they watched another No. 9 score five touchdowns.“Lucas could always make me laugh,” said Grace. “He would always joke and get me laughing so hard that sometimes I’d cry.”There were tears Friday, before and after the game. Some were from laughter. Some were from memories. Some were from pride.None, Michelle Isom says, are from pain, because pain has become the new normal for Tom and Michelle Isom.“I was so proud to watch No. 9 out there on the field when Lucas played, and I’m proud to watch No. 9 out there now,” Michelle Isom says. “There were tears, and there will be more tears.“But if you see tears, they’re tears of comfort and warmth. They aren’t tears of hurt.“Never tears of hurt.”