One of the most common questions Quincy University football coach Gary Bass gets asked is why he and his family have become so enamored with this community.
"It's the people," said Bass, heading into his third season as head coach and eighth on the QU staff. "The communities here are extremely tight knit, and they care about one another. Family here is a term not thrown around needlessly. It means something. When you live somewhere that puts a priority on family the way it is here, as a coach and it being a big part of who I am and what I'm about, it makes life that much more enjoyable."
It hurts that much more, too, when your family is in pain.
That's been the case for the last week for the QU football family and the tri-state area. Kaleo Dade, a three-sport standout from Bowling Green, Mo., and a Hawks signee, was killed last weekend when the car he was driving collided with a deer on a county road.
The shock resonated. The grief was shared. Northeast Missouri came together to support Dade's family and the Bowling Green community. Students and faculty at high schools throughout the region wore red and black -- Bowling Green's school colors -- to school Monday to honor Dade.
Everyone learned how his effervescent personality touched lives beyond his Pike County home. It enveloped a region.
It was that personality, along with the physicality and determination he played with, which endeared him to the QU staff.
"There's no head coaching manual to use to understand how to handle situations like this," Bass said. "A loss of life is never good. A loss of life at that age makes you question a lot of things. He was an extremely energetic guy. That dude's smile lit up the room when he was here on his visit. We talked on the phone about stuff. Knowing how excited he was about the fall, it makes this hurt even more."
It became a reminder for the Hawks not to take any day for granted.
Last Sunday, during the weekly team meeting centered on leadership training, Bass and his staff focused the lesson on Dade's life and used his passion for football and life in general as an example.
"One of things we talked about was how precious life really is," Bass said. "We told our guys, ‘You need to cherish every day you spend on this earth, and you tell people you love them.' Unfortunately, loved ones can be taken from you in a heartbeat. Family members can be taken from you in a heartbeat."
There's no disputing Dade already was a family member.
He signed his national letter of intent in February and planned to step onto campus in August ready to compete for playing time. He bought into Bass' mantra of "faith, family football" wholeheartedly.
"Family around here is not taken lightly," Bass said. "When someone joins our family, they're family. We love them instantaneously. When they hurt, we hurt."
Bass hoped a simple gesture might ease some of the hurt Dade's family is feeling. At Friday's funeral, he presented Dade's mother with a Hawks jersey and a helmet signed by the entire team.
"He's gone but will not be forgotten," Bass said. "He's a member of our football program and always will be. Unfortunately, the dear Lord took a great one home with him. We're going to miss him."