Chase Claypool’s Grade 12 football season with the Abbotsford Panthers was one to remember.
He helped lead the Panthers to the AA provincial title game and was named the tier’s player of the year for 2015, but he also passed the Panthers torch to a young Grade 10 player that year - Samwel Uko.
Uko scored two touchdowns in that 2015 AA provincial title game and went on to have a successful high school football career in his own right, leading the Panthers back to the AA provincial title game in 2017.
Uko’s death back in May sent shockwaves throughout the B.C. football community, and obviously touched the teammate he looked up to as a Grade 10 rookie.
Claypool, who made his debut in the National Football League with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, honoured his departed teammate and friend by writing his last name in the wrist tape he wore during the Steelers 26-16 win.
Panthers head coach Jay Fujimura tweeted out that he was moved by the gesture and believes that somewhere Uko is smiling at the decision to honour him.
“Class act Chase Claypool,” the Abby Panthers football account posted. “He looked up to you so much. I know he’s smiling right now. Great first game on top of it. Panther pride!”
Justin Paul, Uko’s uncle and the man who has acted as an unofficial spokesperson for the family during the news surrounding his death, told The News that he is honoured to see Claypool remember his nephew in such a thoughtful way.
“We really appreciate and thank that Samwel’s friends are still keeping his memory alive, that means so much to us - it brings peace into our heart,” he said. “We really thank Chase. God bless him.”
Paul added that it was inspiring to see Uko on Claypool’s wrist tape and it’s a nice moment in what has been a difficult few months for his family.
The photo seems to indicate that Claypool will be honouring Uko for the entire season.
Uko was found dead in Wascana Lake in Regina, Sask. on May 21 at the age of 20. After an excellent high school career with the Panthers, he played one year with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and most recently played one season with the Langley Rams of the Canadian Junior Football League.
Claypool’s debut with the Steelers was a solid one, as he collected 48 yards total offence in the team’s win.