ANOKA, Minn. - It's been a special season for the Anoka Tornadoes.
"We cheer with some extra passion this year," says senior Katie Johnson. "I don't think there's been a class that's been this close."
The 8-1 record and a top-seed in Section 7 have helped to make this fall a memorable one, but the spirit in the stands and on the sideline goes deeper than football.
"We've made this season about Dylan," says senior Katlyn Foley.
Dylan Witschen would've been playing football this season had it not been for a 2008 diagnosis. During his freshman year, Dylan had a seizure in the locker room after practice and was admitted to the hospital for tests. Ultimately, doctors determined the "mass" they saw was a tumor on the brain. Dylan passed away one year ago.
"He's missed by lots of people," says Debbie Witschen, Dylan's mom. "He befriended everyone, he was a compassionate kid."
But take in any Tornado football game and it's as if Dylan is still here.
"We make signs and chant his name," says Tony Pederson, a senior at Anoka. "He always fought hard and kept believing."
As the team rushes onto the field prior to kickoff, players carry Dylan's number seven jersey and prominently place it on the bench. The seniors have dedicated the season to their former teammate and friend.
"A little bit of Dylan is in them," says Ed, Dylan's dad. "Ya know what, the skies the limit for them, too."
The senior class has taken up Dylan's fight against cancer. They've organized several fundraisers to support cancer research in his honor.
"And with seven minutes to go in the game, we chant his name seven times," says Pederson.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)