The Bellingham Bulldogs have made it halfway through their 2015 season, the first since the loss of two foundational players.
Sean Hicks, 28, and Stephen Faoro, 32, both linebackers for the Bulldogs, are remembered as the heart and soul of the team by head coach Brian Young. Hicks passed away in his home on January 9 and Faoro was killed in a car crash on November 16, 2014.
Some adjustments have been made with the loss of two starting defensive players, but other members have stepped up.
“The team is still searching for somewhat of an identity,” Young said. “To try to find a way to not only cope with the pain of losing these two guys but also the dynamic they brought with their leadership, strength, courage and passion for success.”
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At the first game of the season, Hicks and Faoro were commemorated when their numbers, 5 and 45, were retired. Their framed and signed game jerseys were given to the families of the two men.
Both players had been planning on returning for the 2015 season, said Don Oneida, Bulldogs general manager. Now, even though the men are gone, their legacy is still on the field.
A logo has been made with the Nos. 5 and 45 and will be worn on the helmets of all the players, so Hicks and Faoro are still a part of each game, Oneida said.
Hicks played with the Bulldogs under Young since the formation of the team in 2007.
Faoro came when the Bellingham Blitz merged with the Bulldogs in 2011. From the beginning, Young could count on those two players to be role models for the rest of the team, on and off the field.
The other players fed off the passion that Hicks and Faoro embodied, Young said. They were the life force of the team, the reason losing a game didn’t bring the whole team down.
“There is a void that is felt from the time we come together in the locker room until the game has ended,” Young said.
The families the two men left behind are who need to be remembered now, he said.
As people honor Faoro and Hicks, the families also need to be lifted up and supported because they feel the loss more than anyone else, Young said.
Before the regular season began, the Bulldogs hosted an international flag football tournament in Ferndale that raised more than $2,500 for Hicks and Faoro’s families.
Sixteen games were played by teams from Canada, Washington and Oregon, Oneida said. The goal is to host another tournament in August, but a new location needs to be found.
The Bulldogs team is made up mostly of local men, some right out of high school, Oneida said. With such a young group, many of who are new and may have never met Hicks or Faoro, it is important to the veteran members that the legacy of the men is passed on.
So far, the loss is being handled much like he expected it to be, Young said. The beginning of the season was hard, but now the players know who they are and the second half of the season is beginning with a team that exudes confidence.
“These guys are a lot more resilient, a lot tougher, a lot stronger in their character than I bet even knew,” he said.
The last regular season game for the Bulldogs is June 27.