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Agates detour from game to visit fallen friend

The new kid in town felt like the luckiest one last weekend. Alex Roiland of Two Harbors had no luck Monday when he collapsed in science class and fractured his skull from the "back of the head to past his ear," dad Jeff Roiland said Friday.

Recovering at the family's rural home last Thursday, the ninth-grader begged his dad to take him to town to help send off the Two Harbors football team as it loaded a bus for Duluth and the Section 7AA championship against powerful Moose Lake/Willow River. Alex was part of the team that chants "family" before and after practice.

And that attitude carried into Thursday when Alex didn't need to go see the team; it came to him. It would take a walk -- the bus couldn't get closer than a quarter-mile away as the driver ran out of room to turn the bus around.

Two by two, holding hands, team members quietly walked to the Roiland home. It's a scene the family won't forget.

"Just cool," Jeff Roiland said.

"Awesome," Alex said.

"It's the way they walk onto the field," Two Harbors High School activities director Scott Ross explained. It was just another example of coach Tom Nelson's stress on life lessons through the team, Ross said.

Nobody outside of the Agates fan base would know about this if it weren't for Debbie Alm. Coach Nelson doesn't talk about his team's deeds. Alm said someone should, every once in a while. Her son, Noah, is a senior on the team. The Roilands attend Bethlehem Lutheran Church with the Alms.

She was so inspired by what the team did, she wrote about it. Her words spread quickly in the online social networks.

"Coach Nelson and his players, the football family, do some pretty awesome off-the-field stuff," she wrote. "They don't talk about it. They don't brag about it. They just do it because it's the right thing to do."

Alm wrote about the visit to the Roiland home.

By phone Friday night, she said "they knew what lay ahead of them and still took the time to do it."

Alex, pumped about the visit, told his dad: "We're going to the game."

"I had no choice," Jeff Roiland said. So he pushed him in a wheelchair along the sideline last Thursday.

His dad knows what it can be like for a freshman on the varsity team. "Not with these guys," he said. It's been family all along. And Two Harbors has been a wonderful place for his own family since moving from Willmar this summer. Roiland is the project manager for the Lake County broadband fiber project.

Roiland said he "can hardly describe" the "love and support" his family has received this week and since they moved to the area. "I don't think our family could have wished for any better outcome in making the transition" to Two Harbors, he said.

Alex expects to be fine. The family will watch the swelling in his head but Alex was expected to be in school Monday.

Scott Ross's wife, Melanie, coaches the cheer squad. She knows the stuff Nelson is made of -- they graduated from the high school together. "It's an honor to coach cheerleaders who cheer for this team," she said, adding that Thursday's gesture "isn't any news to us."

There were the family dinners for the whole team on the night before games. There's the work team members do for Alm when she's short of church helpers. Traditionally, you call Nelson up and his players will answer the bell, Alm said.

By the way, the Agates lost the game, 48-7. But that's not what anyone will remember from that Thursday, the last day of the 2011 football season. The gesture toward their teammate "is the stuff this team is made of," Alm wote in her online signoff. "And I am so proud to be a tiny part of their lives."

So is Alex.