Mervo football cruises past Lake Clifton, prepares to say goodbye to Gorham (VIDEO HERE!)
by Derek Toney
Sterling Thomas said he and Elijah Gorham had nicknames when they played midget football more than a decade ago.
“I used to be Ray Lewis, they called him Terrell Suggs,” laughed Thomas.
Thomas grew physically to become a hard-hitting linebacker for Mervo High while Gorham a sure-handed receiver. But Gorham was more than a football player.
His teammates, family and friends will pay tribute to Gorham at a memorial Saturday afternoon at 2 at Modell Field on Mervo’s campus. Gorham, a senior, passed away Oct. 11.
The 12th-ranked Mustangs played their first game since Gorham’s passing Friday against Lake Clifton at Modell Field in Northeast Baltimore.
“It hasn’t gotten any easier…we’re just trying to stay the course, keep these young men focused,” said Mervo coach Patrick Nixon after a 57-0 victory.
A mural of Gorham hung in the front of stands near Mervo’s bench. Each player’s helmet has a decal “7 Strong” on the back. The hashtag, “#7 Strong,” is painted on the turf inside the 10-yard line facing Mervo’s sidelines and home stands.
Gorham was injured in Mervo’s Baltimore City Division I contest with Dunbar at Poly Sept. 18. He landed hard in the end zone while attempting to catch a pass.
Nixon said Gorham had a successful surgery the following day. After returning home from a trip to North Carolina the morning of Oct. 11, Nixon called Gorham’s mother for an update.
“She’s normally upbeat and confident about how things were going to play out, but that day, she wasn’t,” Nixon said. “She said some things that led me to believe something was wrong.”
Less than a hour later, Nixon’s fears were confirmed.
“Absolute disbelief. I never for one second thought that was going to happen,” said Nixon. “I knew God was going to see him through this, but God needed him more upstairs than down here.”
“That was my brother,” said Thomas, who got the news from a distraught classmate in Mervo’s hallways.
The State Medical Examiner said Gorham’s death was caused by cardiac arrest, multi-system organ failure, accidental trauma, and a traumatic brain injury.
Nixon, who’s still “processing” Gorham’s passing, has been focusing on his players and the Mervo community grieving the consummate teammate, classmate and friend.
“He always had a positive attitude,” said Mervo senior captain and wide receiver/defensive back Kylish Hicks.
Hicks said Gorham often called him at 5 a.m. to discuss plays. They were next to each other during halftime of last month’s Dunbar game.
“The coach was drawing up plays and E (Elijah) was like, ‘I don’t know about the offense, but I’m about to return this kick,” remembered Hicks. “I was like, ‘what are you talking about.’”
Gorham got the second half kickoff and went 78 yards for a touchdown. The Mustangs led by three scores, but eventually lost, 48-46, in overtime.
Nixon said Gorham’s passing has been the ultimate in a challenging season for Mervo (6-1 overall). The Mustangs’ season opening match was canceled and last weekend’s game with City College was forfeited by City because of COVID-19 issues.
“One of my coaches said at the beginning of the year this was going to be the year to see if we really love the game and love Mervo,” said Nixon. “From the kids to the coaches, it has definitely been a test in seeing if we love the sport.”
For about 90 minutes Friday, Mervo found solace from a difficult last few weeks. The Mustangs scored on the first play from scrimmage and led 42-0 at halftime. The second half was played with a running clock.
Mervo and Lake Clifton players and coaches gathered at midfield for a postgame prayer.
The Mustangs return to Modell Field Saturday to say goodbye to Gorham. Nixon said players from around the Baltimore City league will be bused to the ceremony that will be attended by school system and city government officials.
Thomas, who will speak Saturday, said Gorham loved football and life.
“No matter what happened we knew we were going to finish for E,” said Thomas. “Everything we do, we do for Elijah.”