It was halftime of one of the most anticipated Class A matchups of this young football season.
Top-ranked Cashion and third-ranked Thomas featured some of the state’s best talent and physical specimens and were embroiled in a battle that saw them separated by just seven points at the game’s midway point.
The teams were exiting the field on the west end and headed for their respective locker rooms.
Cashion assistant Cale Cochran was in the throng of players and coaches marching up the incline when he heard someone shout out “Coach!”
“Coach!” the voice rang again. “Hold up!”
Cochran turned around and saw the Terriers’ big No. 71 running right toward him.
It was Aden Kelley.
“He was THE baddest dude on the field,” Cochran said of Kelley.
And the baddest dude on the field had Cochran in his sights and nobody was going to be able to stop him.
• • •
July 2 was supposed to be the greatest day of Cale Cochran’s life.
It was then that his wife, Jacie, gave birth to their firstborn, Jaxon Jay.
However, complications after the baby’s birth led to Jacie’s unexpected and tragic death at the age of 26.
It left Cochran without a wife and Jaxon without a mother.
The outpouring of support since that day has been tremendous.
Both Cashion and Washington – Jacie’s hometown – erected memorials in her honor.
There have been fundraisers and numerous other showings of comfort from both communities.
Cochran gets help with the baby from his family around Cashion as well as Jacie’s parents in Washington.
Still, times aren’t easy.
“One of the toughest things is being at home,” Cochran said. “That’s where we were all going to build our memories together.”
One of the best breaks from reality for Cochran is coaching football.
“Football is my smokescreen,” he said. “I can go out on the field and not think about things for a few hours.”
That’s what Cochran was doing last Friday night.
His Cashion Wildcats got on top of Thomas 14-0 early, but the Terriers had cut their deficit in half and had a modicum of momentum headed into halftime.
Cochran was contemplating the myriad of adjustments that could be made in preparation for the second half when he heard that voice behind him.
• • •
Aden Kelley is no ordinary 18-year-old kid.
He’s a 6-foot-3, 285- pound monster on the field.
Kelley plays right tackle and defensive end for Thomas and his rare combination of size, ability and athleticism garnered him 21 Division I football offers.
247 Sports has him rated as a four-star prospect and the fourth-best recruit in Oklahoma in the Class of 2021.
In July, Kelley committed to play at Oklahoma State University.
He’d just spent 24 football minutes in the trenches trying to clear paths for his running backs and quarterback on one side of the ball while being double- and triple-teamed on the defensive side.
With his entire face covered in eye black and sweat soaking his uniform, Kelley was also headed to his locker room.
However, he wasn’t thinking about adjustments.
When he realized Cale Cochran was in front of him, all he thought about was getting his arms wrapped around him.
Kelley was aware that Cochran’s world had been shattered nearly three months ago.
“I remember back when it happened,” Kelley said. “I was heartbroken about it.”
Thomas was off the week before when Cashion played at Minco, but Kelley was among the Terrier contingent who went to scout the Wildcats.
“I wasn’t real sure what he looked like, but he walked by us and someone said that was him,” Kelley recalled. “I didn’t say anything to him then and it frustrated me all week.”
So when Kelley looked ahead of him and saw Cochran pacing toward the locker room, he wasn’t going to let another opportunity pass.
“I had no intentions on making it a point to find him,” Kelley said. “Of course, you want to say something, but you don’t know if it’s going to work out.”
Kelly shouted out: “Coach! Coach! Hold up!”
Cochran turned around and Kelley charged toward him.
“He ran up to me and gave me a huge hug,” Cochran said.
“He told me that I have a beautiful baby boy and prays for me everyday.”
Simply put, Cochran was blown away.
“It was surprising,” he said. “I didn’t know what he was going to say to me.”
To Kelley, it was just the right thing to do.
“There’s more to life than what I was going in to listen to at halftime,” Kelley said.
“The fact is, that man is hurting. He’s hurting bad and I wanted to do what I could to make him feel better.”
Initially, it had the reverse effect.
Football was supposed to be Cochran’s escape. Kelley’s gesture momentarily took him out of that.
“It was one of those things that reminded me again that she’s not here anymore,” Cochran said. “I went inside the locker room and couldn’t think about football anymore.
“It was hard to leave the locker room. It was probably the first time since I’ve been coaching football where football became very small to me.”
As halftime came to an end, Cashion head coach Lynn Shackelford and assistant D.L. Robertson told Cochran it was time to head back out.
“Something came over me and I got up and went out there and coached,” Cochran said. “It took a couple of minutes into the half for me to get back into football mode.”
Cashion eventually won the game 28-7 as the Wildcats pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“Man they’re a great team,” Kelley said. “That was such a great test for us and I just hope we get a chance to do it again in the playoffs.”
Cochran later had the time to truly let it soak in what Kelley had done in the heat of battle.
“There’s an 18-year-old kid going through a big game and he had the gumption to come up and say that to me.
“That shows the kind of kid he is.”
“Absolutely he is,” said Rob Friesen, the first-year Thomas superintendent who spent the previous seven years as superintendent at Okarche.
“He is as good as they get.”
Cochran chronicled the interaction the next day on social media.
“Although it hit me pretty hard where I was reminded yet again that I’ll never see her again…I was absolutely impressed with this young kid’s actions. I have always heard how great of a kid he is, but I sure am thankful he came up and said those nice words. He is an 18-year-old kid who was brought up to respect and support people going through a hard time,” Cochran wrote.
The Facebook and Twitter posts received tons of interactions.
“It’s cool to see how you reach and touch people like that,” Kelley said. “I didn’t want it to blow up. I was just trying to do the right thing.”
The right thing meant a lot to Cochran.
“It was a reminder that she’s not here, but also a nice reminder that people are thinking of me,” he said.
Life went on for Kelley this week and it’s a busy one.
On Thursday alone he had school, football practice, a team meal, an FFA meeting (he’s the chapter’s vice president) and then he helped his classmates work on their homecoming parade float.
Although his actions on Sept. 14 will stick with people for a long time, he didn’t feel it was out of the ordinary.
“There’s a bigger picture,” he said. “The good Lord has a plan for us all and I believe you have to stick to that.
“And I just wanted (Coach Cochran) to know he had my support.”