Keenan: Touchdown in heaven
In July, Pontiac High School's varsity football coach, John Lloyd, and his wife, Autumn, attended a weekend conference called Coaches Time Out, a faith-based retreat for coaches and their spouses as they build character in young athletes.
As part of the conference, the coaches wrote a letter to themselves that would be mailed to them three months later to remind them of the goals they had set.
It can't be determined whether Lloyd had forgotten all about the letter, but it is safe to say that someone above did not.
On Nov. 5, Lloyd died of a brain aneurysm after taking his four kids — Johnny, 14; Samantha, 12; Daniel, 10; and Matthew, 9 — to a movie because that's what great dads do when kids don't have school on Election Day.
He was literally here one minute and gone the next: the children had gone to bed and Lloyd was in his man-cave in the basement of their Rochester Hills home when his brother-in-law and Autumn heard a thud. By the time paramedics got Lloyd's heart pumping again, he was brain dead. He was 39.
Family would later consider it providential that he held on long enough at the hospital for his kids to say goodbye, while, as his mother, Laurel Green, said: "He looked alive instead of how he looked in the casket, which wasn't like him at all."
Lloyd's letter arrived in the mail the day he died. As the Lloyd family pastor, the Rev. Lorenzo Sewell of Woodside Bible Church in Pontiac, succinctly put it: "If you think this is mere coincidence and not God's doing, then you ought to have your head examined."
Described as "charismatic," "enthusiastic," "a wild and crazy funny person" and "never lacking in confidence," the letter was quintessential John Lloyd.
"Dear John," it began, "Good job! You are amazing! Be encouraged that God is going to continue to work on all miracles necessary for the good of your family and the boys of Pontiac. … Make sure you are cherishing Autumn. Do not forget the five Ts: time, talk, touch, truth and tickle. … Remember it's all about God's kingdom. Love, John."
Born in Westland, the oldest of three and raised in Denver until high school, Lloyd was a die-hard Broncos fan. He loved people from the get-go. When his younger brother was born, two people came to the door with baby presents in hand. "I'd never even met them," his mother said. "But, at 4 years old, John had gone door-to-door announcing he had a baby brother.
"He was always super talkative," she said. "When John entered a room, it was like four or five people had walked in because the noise level rose so much."
Lloyd tried all sorts of sports before settling on football — wrestling, basketball, track, baseball, even tennis. "But he said tennis was hard on him because he kept wanting to jump over the net and tackle the guy."
A gym teacher at several elementary schools in Pontiac, Lloyd had just completed his first season as head football coach at Pontiac High. An impoverished district with declining enrollment and an inability to hold onto coaches, Lloyd coming on board in April represented a huge ray of hope. He'd told a reporter: "Just having these kids who fight so hard for themselves, I wanted to come and help fight for them and accomplish the things they want way past the game."
Lloyd appealed to his church family to raise money for helmets and to provide homemade dinners to the team, since many were sorely lacking in good nutrition.
"Our young men that he coached, he loved them like sons," said Lee Montgomery, Pontiac High's athletic director.
And they loved him back. At the funeral, the entire team dressed in uniform and lined up on the altar, kneeling down on one knee. They chanted the team prayer their coach taught them: "Lord, let us be humble and give us the strength."
Because Coach Lloyd was a "man you could not say no to," at the postseason banquet next week, prime rib will be served, just as he had planned. The Pontiac School District will present the John Lloyd Award to one athlete in each sport every year who represents "Passion, Commitment, Dedication and a Relentless Pursuit to Succeed."
In case anybody still doubted that heavenly strings were being pulled, an anonymous benefactor just happened to donate a burial plot to Woodside Bible Church the day before Lloyd died. Last week, he was laid to rest at Perry Park Cemetery under a tree, atop a hill, overlooking the athletic field at Pontiac High School, where he once coached and where, many believe, he coaches still.
A fund has been set up to help Lloyd's widow and their four children with education and medical costs. Please see coachjohnlloyd.wordpress.com.