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Great Neck North makes late coach Deeks proud

Great Neck North captains Brian Kahen, left, and

Great Neck North captains Brian Kahen, left, and Oliver Elihu, right, honor their former coach Chris Deeks before the game against St. Dominic. (Sept. 6, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The colorful, hand-painted signs were hung lovingly on the anchor fence surrounding the football field at Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay Thursday night.

"He's in our hearts."

"Leave a footprint."

"Band of brothers."

"We are family."

Before the Nassau Conference V opener between St. Dominic and Great Neck North, the North captains carried the first two of those signs to midfield. Their former coach Chris Deeks, who died last Thursday of a heart attack at 60, was in their hearts.

"Outside the lines, we're all grieving. Inside the lines, we put Coach Deeks in our hearts and are playing for him," senior Justin Sedaghat said.

"We have 21 hours a day to grieve, but for three hours we pour our hearts onto the field," senior Oliver Elihu said. "The last thing Coach Deeks would want is for us to be upset. He'd want us to celebrate his life. We're carrying on his legacy."

It was obvious, not just in the eloquent words of those two players, who also played lacrosse for Deeks the past three years. But in the spirit and actions of all the Great Neck North players who played with gusto in rallying for a 20-18 win.

Byron Azizi scored from 1 yard with 2:07 left for the winning points after Elihu's 37-yard burst up the middle. Azizi tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Brian Kahen in the first quarter and Justin Nasimi had a 33-yard TD run in the third for the Blazers.

"The first couple of days, we couldn't believe it," said Sedaghat, a running back/linebacker. "We were with him the day before and then we were told that he died."

Chris Cesar, the defensive coordinator who replaced Deeks as coach, said he heard the news last Thursday night at 10:45.

"We practiced until about 6 o'clock and there were no signs of anything," Cesar said. "I got a call that he died around 8 o'clock, at home with his family. We had an early practice the next morning. The principal and the athletic director came and we told the kids. Then we cleared the room and gave just the football players an hour to grieve and to bond."

After that, guidance counselors and psychologists spoke to them at the high school. "The kids cried together and then they handled it beautifully," Cesar said. "It was very tough. Some of the lacrosse kids knew him for years. It hit them hard."

The team attended Deeks' wake, Great Neck North football jerseys over their shirts and ties. "We were all touched by him," said Lloyd Sussman, an assistant football coach who played for Deeks at the school.

"He made kids feel special -- every kid on the team. It's hard for me to talk about it. He was a paternal role model."

Sussman took off his baseball cap to reveal the letters "CD" printed on the inside of the bill. "So I know that he's always with me," Sussman said.

His players quoted Deeks. "He'd tell us, 'Every day is a workday,' " Sedaghat said.

"His favorite expression was 'Leave a footprint,' " Elihu said.

Clearly, that's what Deeks did. And Thursday night, so did his kids.

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