KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Before COVID-19 cases forced East Kentwood High School to cancel its Friday football game, tributes were planned for a team coach who died suddenly last week.
East Kentwood had planned to take a moment of silence during their matchup to remember coach Eric Page.
“It hit us like a ton of bricks. Eric was a tremendous person — teacher, coach mentor. (He was) very dear and near to my heart,” said East Kentwood head football coach Tony Kimbrough.
Kimbrough had worked alongside Page for years. Their relationship grew from coaching colleagues to close friends.
Kimbrough was stunned last week to hear his friend had died at 43 years old.
“One day, you know, we’re out here practicing. And the next minute, you get news that one of your best friends and colleagues, you know, is gone,” said Kimbrough.
At six-foot-six and 260 pounds, coach Page wasn’t someone you could ignore on the field.
“He was in your face in a good way. Very demanding, and the players respected that,” said Kimbrough.
“His presence looms large out here and it’s different without him,” he added.
“He led with tough love and you know he really cared about these players and he really wanted you to be the best version you could be,” said former player John Keenoy.
Keenoy is serving as interim offensive line coach in Page’s absence.
“I’ll never be coach Page, but I can try to help those kids move on and remember what coach Page had done for them,” he said.
In a nod to Page’s legacy at East Kentwood, the team will wear “EP” stickers on their helmets for the rest of the season.
“We pride ourselves on being a family,” said Kimbrough.
“The loss is tremendous, but I know, I know they’re playing and in the back of their mind, he’s still a part of what we’re doing,” he added.
After learning of Page’s death, Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff issued the following statement last week:
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of East Kentwood High School Biology/Chemistry teacher Eric Page. Mr. Page also coached on our varsity football staff.
Eric was a mentor and leader for East Kentwood. He will be deeply missed by our Kentwood family. Our District Trauma Care Team is assisting students, staff, and the community.
Please keep the Page family in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”