LODI, OH - A group of student-athletes gathered at Gene Clark Stadium at Cloverleaf High School to console each other after learning that John Sands, an assistant football and track coach for the Colts, was killed on Monday morning in an auto accident.
The Wood County Sheriff’s Department says the 23-year-old Sands died at the scene, after his SUV collided with a commercial dump truck on U.S. 6 outside Bradner, Ohio.
Students say John Sands had connected with them during his short career at Cloverleaf.
Senior Adam Oren told Fox 8, "He meant a lot to me. He was my high jump and long jump coach, my receiver coach, my defensive back coach. He was a lot to me, he taught me a lot…I know he loved me and I loved him too and now it's just really sad that he's gone, knowing that he's not going to be there."
Coach Sands, a 2012 graduate of New London High School, was known for his ability to inspire the athletes on the Colt football and track teams.
"He was like family, you know every time I felt like giving up, he would make me believe in myself, and he would always be there when I needed something," said senior Bri Gallagher.
What is most heartbreaking for the students and staff at Cloverleaf is that John Sands died while pursuing his dream. Cloverleaf Head Football Coach Justin Vorhies told Fox 8 that at the time of the accident, Coach Sands was on his way to Bowling Green State University, where he was taking the final course he needed to get his degree in criminal justice.
Coaches, teachers and counselors are pointing to the tragic death of John Sands as a reminder of how fleeting and fragile life can be, and how opportunities should always be embraced.
"And to almost be there. You know he delayed taking this class so he could coach one more football season for sure, and it's sad for me and it's sad for our kids and all the other kids that he probably could have touched in one way or another and gotten to know and made an impact on their lives," said Coach Vorhies.
It is homecoming week at Cloverleaf, and the school is planning a number of tributes to John Sands, including the placement of his initials on the Colts’ football helmets for the remainder of the season.