ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — From the stands, watching Zeeland East storm the field just looks like a team excited to play the game they love.

But for two Chix, it’s not so much about the game but the people they play with. Nick Williams and Evan Berghorst have been close since the sixth grade when they started playing football together. Their friendship took new meaning last fall when stands were emptied.

“Around Labor Day, that’s when we got sick. My dad got (COVID-19) pretty bad,” said Berghorst.

While everyone else in Williams’ family recovered from the illness, his dad, Chuck, got worse.  

“Every other night I was rushing him to the hospital, and he’d come home the next morning. I was making all his food, doing dishes, taking care of the house,” said Berghorst.

His dad was on a ventilator for a week and stayed in the hospital for a month. While he was in the hospital, Williams’ family stepped in.

“Nicks dad acted like my dad. After games he would talk to me about how I played, stuff my dad would do,” Berghorst recalled.  

Williams’ family helped Berghorst as his dad slowly made a recovery. One Saturday morning, Berghorst received an all-too-familiar text from Williams saying his family had COVID-19.

“I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get up. My breathing was raspy and hard,” Williams said.

Just like the Berghorst family, the rest of the Williams family healed while their dad got sicker.

“My dad was still struggling. My dad was getting really, really sick,” said Williams.

Like Berghorst, Williams’ dad also had to go on a ventilator.  

“Knowing that my dad was going to a hospital where a lot of people with COVID were going and knowing that’s the last place they’d ever go. That was scary,” said Williams.

When Williams needed support, he didn’t have to look far.  

“Families like the Berghorsts, we couldn’t be more blessed. They were going through the same thing as me they understood the situation,” he said.

With their help, Williams did everything he could to help his dad as he fought. Doctors told the family he had a 3% chance of survival.

“My dad’s parents came, my pappa walks in the door and sees us and broke down. He told us … ‘your dad fought for you guys every single day. His brain was active. He was fighting and fighting. He didn’t pull through, guys, but he loved you so much,’” remembered Williams.

When he felt most alone, his team was there.

“People just came by my house and hugged me. And it taught me that the small things can make a difference. There’s no place too dark enough for the light to shine,” he said. 

Zeeland Chix

“Nick’s my best friend for six years, and the bond that we created last fall was like something never before seen, we’re brothers now,” said Berghorst.

“Evan’s one of those people where when we’re 70 years old, I’ll be getting lunch with him using our senior discount,” said Williams.

With the help of his best friend and his dozens of teammates, Williams is leading his guys on the field with a new perspective.  

“Every game I go out, and you’ll see I bring my dad with me. Before games we pray as a team, but I like to take time on my own, whether it’s in the locker room or the sideline right before,” said Williams.

Nick Williams remembers his late father on the field. (Oct. 7, 2022)

He is shining, for his best friend, his teammates, everyone in the stands and for the one with the best seat in the house.

“Dad, I know you’re up there. I know you’re enjoying this right now. It brings me peace knowing that you never go a day without seeing exactly what I’m doing,” said Williams. “I want to let you know that I love you, I think about you every play of every game and I take you with me every play that I do. Amen.”