Before each game, University of Indianapolis defensive lineman Dillon Dallas writes a “12” on the protective tape covering both wrists.
University of Saint Francis left tackle Alex Woods is known to take the field with the same orange towel tucked into the front of his game pants.
Both gestures carry the same messages — “I miss you” and “Thanks for the motivation.”
Dallas and Woods, graduates of Center Grove in 2014, are among the last football-playing links to Tyler Genneken, their classmate, teammate and close friend who lost his inspirational 40-month fight against acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Nov. 4, 2009.
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He was 14.
Genneken was diagnosed in July 2006. Eleven years later, memories of how he attempted to stare down a disease that claims an estimated 1,500 lives in this country annually continue to be a source of inspiration.
“Oh, I think about Tyler every day,” said Dallas, a UIndy senior who has produced 64 tackles and 11.5 sacks during his college football career. “He’s going to be with me forever.”
He has a large “12” — the number Genneken wore as bantam league running back — tattooed on his formidable right bicep.
During their senior season at Center Grove in 2013, Dallas and Woods were among the players instrumental in honoring Genneken in every way possible.
Before the start of the opener at Warren Central, captains Luke Calvert, Jacob Vance, Tyler Amaro and Dallas carried a white road jersey with the red “12” to midfield for the coin toss.
From that point forward, Trojans players serving as designated captains made sure the No. 12 jersey was present. Home or away, regular-season game or postseason. Didn’t matter.
Genneken’s name was in the program for all 13 games. A locker was reserved for him inside the Center Grove locker room. Each player wore a small helmet sticker carrying the No. 12. Postgame talks ended with the chant, “One, two, three … Tyler.”
Dallas and Woods continue to do their part.
Woods shares a birthday with Genneken (Feb. 22). Every year on that day he’ll exchange text messages with Tyler’s parents, Drew and Joyce, to let them know he’s thinking of them — and of Tyler.
“I’m always thinking about him, especially during the football season,” said Woods, a three-year starter on the Cougars’ offensive line. “It’s just a real motivation, and I do believe Tyler is a guardian for all of us.”
Early in his Saint Francis career, Woods began wearing the orange towel he received years earlier from the “Play it Forward” football tournament bearing Tyler Genneken’s name.
Late in his his sophomore season, an official told him to take it off because it looked too much like a penalty flag. Undeterred, Woods plans to make it part of his game-day attire until instructed otherwise.
For their part, Drew and Joyce remain supportive of the college football careers of all those who were classmates with the youngest of their two sons.
The couple attends two UIndy football games per season to watch Dallas. They witness Woods playing once each year — including the snowy, bone-numbing conditions while Saint Francis downed Reinhardt University 37-26 in November 2015.
“Every time Dillon, Alex or any other of Tyler’s friends and teammates puts a “12” on their shoe or wrist or helmet lets me know Tyler is still playing his favorite sport, still being with the friends he loved, and still being a part of our lives,” Drew Genneken said.
“The fact they continue to remember him means a lot to us. One of the things we worry about is Tyler being forgotten, and I don’t think that will ever happen.”