The Westerville North Warriors were up by two touchdowns with several minutes left in last Friday’s game against Canal Winchester.
Ty O’Hearn and several other seniors on the football team approached Coach Bryan Johnson on the sidelines.
“Coach, it’s Pash’s time,” O’Hearn said. “Let’s get him in there.”
Pasha Krantz, who had been part of the Warrior Nation football program since he was a freshman, was ready. He had practiced the Victory play with his teammates the day before. After the snap, he would take the ball, kneel down on the field, effectively ending the play and game.
It was a special moment for the Westerville North junior, who was making his first appearance during a varsity game. He got the nod from Johnson and took his first steps on the field with the cheers of his teammates in his wake.
“It was hard to breathe,” he said. “It was so exciting.”
Krantz’s path to his Westerville North family is unlike others on his team.
He was adopted from Russia at six months old, weighing only 12 pounds. In the orphanage, he was swaddled for six months. He was given sugar water and sweet tea and there he was considered healthy, his mother, Kelli, said.
Doctors gave him a “failure to thrive” diagnosis and he faced a host of developmental delays. For example, he needed therapy for his auditory senses, eye convergence and core development.
“He had a lot of catching up to do,” Kelli said. “He was on his own growth trajectory.”
As he grew, she encouraged Krantz to try sports. He tried soccer but found a calling with football as a third-grader. He continued to play each year and as he got older and the other boys got bigger, his coaches checked in to see how Kelli felt about Krantz playing and potentially getting hurt.
As long as her son wanted to play football, she would support him, she said. And he wanted to play in high school.
At 5 foot, 3 inches and 110 pounds, Kelli didn’t expect Krantz would get a college scholarship for his play. But she encouraged him to always try his best.
“I’ve always told him, ‘I don’t care if you are making the touchdowns as long as you are having fun, are coachable and being part of a team,’ ” she said. “He always does his best. And sometimes his best doesn’t look anything like what anybody else’s does.”
Through Westerville North’s football team, Krantz has remained connected to people who have been with him throughout his journey: teammates he played with while in elementary school and a coach he worked with while in middle school.
Kelli recalls when his former occupational therapist in elementary school saw Krantz while in high school.
“I would not believe he’s the same kid,” she told Kelli.
Johnson called Krantz a positive force on the team.
“He’s like the little brother everyone likes to be around,” Johnson said.
He also noted his efforts away from the game — automotive studies at the Delaware Area Career Center, 4.0 grade-point average, Eagle Scout.
“It’s not just football with him,” he said. “He’s a well-rounded kid and he does a lot for our team.”
Typically, the quarterback runs the Victory play during a game. O’Hearn thought it would be a great way for Krantz to make his mark during a game.
“I’ve never seen him on the field for Friday night games and I definitely wanted to see him on the field this year,” said O’Hearn, a senior who has known Krantz since he joined the team.
The two bonded along the sidelines during practice, often talking about their shared interest in trucks.
“He said I’m like his big brother,” O’Hearn said.
For Krantz, his Westerville North football team has given his high school experience meaning and has helped him feel like he’s part of something bigger. And even when football conditioning sessions went virtual, he still felt connected to his teammates, working out with them while their phone and computer were cameras on.
“It’s a brotherhood that goes into it and I love it,” he said.
When he was called to make the final play of the game last Friday, he was nervous. He didn’t want to let his team down.
When the play ended, he did not expect his teammates to surround him, chant his name and lift him on their shoulders.
“I almost fainted because I was so excited,” he said.
The moment was just as meaningful for his teammates and coaches.
“It was awesome,” senior Sylvester Bockarie said. “It was really encouraging. It was huge for the team.”
O’Hearn said he had never seen Krantz smile so large.
“It was a cool experience for him,” he said. “I’m happy for him.”