As he crossed the goal line, Dagan Rienks glanced skyward, then took a deep breath. He bowed his head just before he was enveloped by his teammates.
The junior tight end from Paonia, whose father, Scott, died last Monday, caught his third touchdown of the season, undoubtedly the most meaningful of his career.
“That was amazing,” Rienks said Saturday night after the Mavericks’ 49-14 victory over Adams State. “I felt the love with the team. I’ve felt it this whole year, but that was special when I got that touchdown and had everyone come up to me, and then get to the sideline having everyone else that wasn’t on the field and getting to go over and hug my mom, that was special. I felt him there for sure.”
Wide receiver Dwight Blakey was the first player to reach Rienks in the end zone, then quarterback Karst Hunter and the offensive line, one by one, hugged Rienks, one of four team captains. After the point-after kick, Rienks jogged to the sideline for a hug from head coach Tremaine Jackson, with the rest of his teammates and coaches patting him on the helmet or hugging him.
As the Mavericks lined up for the kickoff, Rienks ran across the track to his mother, Kelly, who leaned over the wall for a long embrace with her son.
“It was awesome to see Dagan score,” freshman linebacker Kaden Stewart said. “I feel so bad for what happened this week, everything with his father, but it was a great moment for him. We’re all happy to have him out there; it wouldn’t have been the same without him out there on the field with us. I know his dad’s looking down just happy. It was a good moment for our whole team, honestly, probably one of the best moments of the game.”
Upstairs in the press box, as soon as Rienks caught the ball with no defenders in sight, the Mavs’ assistant coaches stood and applauded. Rienks’ family and friends, sitting behind the bench, most wearing #RienksStrong #RefusetoLose shirts, had the cameras on their phones rolling as they cheered, hugged and shed a few happy tears.
“Everyone (from Paonia), everyone has really helped me get through the last two years and the last week especially,” Dagan said. “I couldn’t have done it without all their support.”
Just as his decision to keep playing the past two years after his father was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, Rienks said it was an easy choice to play Saturday night.
“It wasn’t a hard decision. I know he’d want me to play, and I wanted to play for him,” Rienks said. “Making the decision wasn’t hard. I was gonna play the whole week. It was super special having all the support from my family and friends come out here and supporting him and me. That was special.”
Rienks caught four passes for 81 yards Saturday, second only to receiver-turned-running back Darick Holmes Jr., who caught four passes for 86 yards and one touchdown. He also threw a key block to spring Holmes for the first touchdown of the game. Seeing his players’ reactions to the touchdown that gave CMU (4-1 3-1 RMAC) a 35-7 lead resonated with Jackson.
“Family. Forget about me, I love you,” the Mavs’ head coach said. “That was the question when we put this team together, how fast they would gel, and I think you guys see how fast they did. When he caught the touchdown, everybody came up to him. For me as a coach, that lets me know we’re doing the right things in the program.”
A memorial service for Scott Rienks is at 2 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Meyer Ballroom at the University Center at CMU, the day after the Mavericks play at Fort Lewis.
“His father being a legendary coach passing away was tragic,” Jackson said. “Dagan’s a soldier, man. He’s been dealing with that a long time and he showed up with a smile at Tuesday meetings ready to go to work and this football team embraced that.
“We’re all hurting for him, but the way he played tonight and the way the team played, I think we tried to honor that, especially on the night where it’s cancer awareness night, I thought the team really came together for him.”