The three teens chose different places on their bodies for a tattoo of a cross.
Logan Hutson wanted one on his inner forearm, where he would look at it every day. Jacob Vance picked his shoulder.
Lane Morris decided to take up nearly the entire right side of his torso, from just below his armpit to his abdomen. His mother agreed to let him get the tattoo only if it weren’t too easily visible, he said.
They added flourishes, such as initials and Bible verses. While different, all three tattoos serve the same purpose — to honor their longtime friend, Tyler Genneken.
Morris, Vance and Hutson have created their own ways to recognize the legacy of their friend, who died from leukemia. From the cross-based tattoos emblazoned with Tyler’s initials to simple gestures before a game, the three Center Grove High School football players try to incorporate their fallen friend in everything they do.
“You can wear a shirt or a hat or lanyard and say something about Tyler, but none of it is permanent,” Morris said. “Tyler is a lasting mark in my heart, and I wanted something that would be there forever.”
As the Center Grove football team prepares for a game, Morris, Vance and Hutson have their pregame rituals.
Morris finds Drew Genneken, Tyler’s father, before every game and gives him a hug. On his wristbands, he writes “RIP” on one side and “TBG,” Tyler’s initials, on the other.
He and Hutson gather all of the running backs together to say a quick prayer. If one of them scores a touchdown, he points to the sky in honor of God and his friend.
“Everything I do on the field is for Tyler,” Morris said. “I know he’d like to be out there. It’s my way of showing him a little love.”
Vance, a 17-year-old left guard for the Trojans, prefers a solid handshake with Drew Genneken, a silent expression of solidarity.
“It reminds me of everything that the Genneken family has been through and how we give all of our success for Tyler,” he said.
They all had known Tyler since they were in elementary school. After he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2006, they rallied around him and served as his support group.
The four boys made the Genneken’s basement rec room their fortress for days at a time. Spread out on the couches and floor, they’d play video games for hours.
Even then, they noted Tyler’s never-say-die attitude.
“We’d all be out, and he’d still be running around trying to win. He’d never quit,” said Hutson, 17.
The impression he made stuck with them after his death in 2009. This past summer, all three decided independently to get tattoos honoring Tyler.
All three chose a cross-based design, adapting it for personal taste and meaning.
“We all have strong faiths in God, so that’s why we wanted the crosses. But we designed them on our own. We had an image and had the artist touch it up and master it,” Morris said.
Morris, 16, designed his himself. The tattoo depicts a rugged-looking cross with cracks through it. A scroll below it say “Always Remembered,” with “RIP” and “TBG” on either side.
Hutson’s is framed by the words “Never Forgotten” and the date he died. Vance’s has an ornate cross with wings coming out of it. Tyler’s initials are scrolled across the bottom.
“Tyler made a big impact on my life, so I wanted something I could carry around every day and remind me of all the things that he’s brought us,” Vance said. “I’ll never forget him anyway, but this is another reminder.”
All three are active in the Tyler Genneken Foundation. They help with blood drives and fundraising events, including the annual Pay It Forward football tournament.
The football community is so tight-knit that it was a natural fit to rally around Tyler and his cause, Hutson said.
“Everyone knows, when you hear the name Tyler Genneken, you know his story. You know what he wanted to do. Having the tournament brings it all together,” he said.
The boys also have provided their tattoo designs to be included in a new line of merchandise called Cure Wear. Sales of the T-shirts help raise money and awareness for pediatric cancers, as well as for the national bone marrow registry.
“It’s also a conversation starter. People see it, and I can tell them about Tyler and what it is that he did,” Vance said.