The concern caused by the noontime phone call won't soon disappear.
Receiving was Kendell Coleman, the will-o'-the-wisp rusher-receiver-returner from Martin Luther King High. Placing was his father, Leonard.
The 33rd annual Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Football Game, which would mushroom little by little into a wonderful all-timer, was 7 hours away. Leonard Coleman would not be in attendance.
"He was calling from the hospital," Kendell said. "He said he was having a heart problem. It might be serious.
"That had me pretty upset. It motivated me. I wanted to have a good game, so my dad would be proud. He said, 'Play hard for me. Try to bring one home.' I dedicated this game to him."
Maybe it was a good thing Leonard Coleman, who was resting comfortably in a hospital bed, was not in the stands on an occasionally rainy night at Northeast's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium. His ticker would have been tested along with everyone else's.
Though the game program listed the Kutztown University-bound Kendell Coleman at 5-9, 165 pounds, he acknowledged being 5-6, 150, during the season. When surrounded by the numerous giants playing the game these days, he looks even smaller.
As many coaches of small guys have said, "No one checks size in the end zone."
Coleman twice hit paydirt and turned 14 touches into 215 yards as Public bested Non-Public, 30-24, in overtime, reducing its series deficit to 17-15-1.
Oh, and he ended the 3 1/2-hour night with a magnanimous gesture.
"I was going to put him back in," said Pub coach Erik Zipay, of Simon Gratz. "He said, 'Nah, go with Calvin. He has this.' "
Public, having pitched a shutout to start OT, faced fourth-and-goal on the 1 in the bottom half of football's version of an inning. Calvin Spires (Frankford) exploded forward and shook off contact to twist into the end zone a shade to his left. Within an instant, the Pub players were swarming en masse at the 30-yard line to celebrate their rousing triumph.
Coleman had gained 1 yard on first down and 4 on second, with Spires then aligned at fullback, before going to the sideline after a particularly hard hit. Spires shifted to tailback, picking up 4 and the final 1.
"I told the coach, 'Let's go up the middle. I'm a hard runner. Everybody knows that,' " Spires said. "He said, 'All right, I'm gonna give it to you.' I told the linemen, 'Get low and hold your blocks. I'm gonna get through there.' They said back to me, 'We gotcha.'
"To get that chance was so exciting. And then to come through . . . "
The TD was the second of the night for Spires, who will attend Lackawanna (Junior) College, in Scranton, with the hope of then transferring to Shippensburg. Each was a 1-yarder. Coleman preferred long ball.
He zoomed 64 yards for a punt-return TD just 2 minutes, 59 seconds into the game, and turned a screen left from Jerrick Jenkins (Gratz) into a 70-yarder on the first play of the third quarter. His other big contribution was a 38-yard scamper with another screen.
Overall, he ran eight times for 6 yards, made four catches for 135 (tying the game record), and uncorked two returns for 74. Like always, defenders appeared to have great angles on Coleman . . . then didn't.
Here's the scary part: He was playing hurt!
"My left calf is messed up. I couldn't go full speed. I hurt it in our practice last Saturday," he said. He then mentioned he had finished last in his heat a day earlier in the 100-meter dash in the PL track championships. "When I run, it gets tight."
Could have fooled everyone.
"I tried to block it out [the pain] tonight," he said. "I prayed to God to get me through it."
The 38-yard screen burst came with 2 minutes left in regulation and placed the ball on the 9.
Joe Thompson (Father Judge), who had made an interception minutes earlier, broke through to drop Coleman for a 3-yard loss, but Jenkins then turned a scramble into a 12-yard TD, tying the score at 24.
Following a high snap, holder Bradley Martin (Gratz) threw incomplete on the conversion. Somehow, neither team had experienced kickers and conversions were mostly a comedy show.
Coleman said he also dedicated his performance to the memory of ex-King star Daniel "Rump" Smith, who died in December 2004. The two lived a few blocks apart in West Oak Lane and Smith mentored Coleman on how to prepare for high school ball. During the game, he kept thinking about the advice he receives from Imhotep Charter twins Khaleel and Khalief Evans, Pub teammates and workout partners.
They always tell him, "Never let the first guy tackle you. And always make the last guy look stupid."
Jenkins finished 6-for-17 for 167 yards while adding 62 yards on seven rushes. The Pub's main grunts were center Chris Clanton (Washington), guards Christopher Oliver (Germantown) and Mike Kelly (Washington) and tackles Antoine Kemp-Smith (G-town) and Maurice Jessup (Bartram).
N-P received two TD catches from Daryl Robinson (North Catholic, Temple), a 32-yarder from Mark Hatty (Neumann-Goretti; 9-for-18, 135) and a 27-yarder from Chris Whitney (St. Joeseph's Prep, Villanova). Hatty also hit Ryan McCullough (North) for a 7-yard TD.
Among the Pub's top defenders was 6-4, 245-pound end Jahmel Bashir, who is headed from Southern to Delaware State. He notched two sacks and another tackle-for-loss in a six-stop performance that earned him team defensive MVP honors.
"Seemed just like practice to me," Bashir said. "We've been stressing defense the whole time. The coaches just told me, 'Go straight into the backfield and you'll get all the sacks and tackles you want.' That's what I did."
When asked whether sacks provide particular excitement, Bashir said dryly, "They're OK, but I was hoping for an interception."
Meanwhile, it was left for Spires to put Coleman's speed into perspective.
"On his long [reception TD], I started off running downfield in case he needed a block," he said. "But then I said, 'Forget it. That boy's too fast.' " *