They lifted him on their shoulders and cried.
"I didn't know what to say," says Creel. "There was a lot of crying, and I think I gave every person in the stands a big hug."
The tears weren't just for Creel. They were also for his mother,
"I got a call from Jordan saying his mama just died," said Alabama Christian coach
Creel didn't decide until about half an hour before the buses were leaving from the high school parking lot, when after much back and forth he realized that his mother would have wanted him to play. Alabama Christian's athletic director, who also happens to be the mother of Creel's girlfriend, called Baker from the road and told him they were on their way. "She said to me, 'Don't move that bus,'" says Baker. "Before that, I don't really think anyone was expecting him to show up."
But Creel did show up, his No. 1 jersey in hand, holding the football bag that on any other Friday afternoon would have been packed by Karen the night before. His teammates greeted him with a round of applause. Then, not knowing exactly how to react, they fell back into their usual pattern of telling jokes and playing around.
The tone changed once the team headed into the locker room. There, a somber Baker led the team. "I pulled Jordan aside and said, 'You're going to have the game of your life tonight, and your mama's going to have a front row seat," Baker says.
Creel had some words of his own for his teammates. Once the coaches left the locker room, Creel told his fellow Eagles, "I know she loved me and I know you all loved her, so let's go out there and play for her."
And in the words of Baker, "By golly, they did."
Creel's performance earned him the Alabama player of the week. Somewhere beneath the white lights of Daleville High's football field, Karen Creel's 5-foot-10, 144-pound son played through his grief and rallied those around him to play through theirs. "Every time I touched the ball, I thought of her," Creel says.
There were other signs of remembrance for the woman who every Friday night was "the loudest voice in the stands." The players wore black tape on their jerseys and helmets with Karen's initials written in white-out. Daleville coach
The jubilation came as a wave of relief for Creel, who the next day attended his mother's funeral. His two older siblings,
Creel is living with his grandparents five blocks away from the house he once shared with his mom. But he still has a reminder of the bubbly voice from the bleachers -- a last voicemail from Karen -- saved on his cell phone. The message isn't about anything in particular, just instructions for Jordan to get his bike fixed at his grandfather's house, but it's enough. "I don't want to say I'm holding on to it," Jordan says, "but it is good to be able to hear her voice."
And then he does something else in memory of his mom -- who he describes as friendly and full of life -- not quite as vigorous as his football display. He tells a joke about a hard loss this last Friday to Andalusia (Ala.) High.
"Yeah, I've hit some roadblocks lately," he says. "They were on the field, and about 265 and 300 pounds."
And then there is laughter. Jordan is back on his feet.