Everyone who knew Tyler Rathbun was pretty sure he would go on to play college soccer.
And even though he couldn't be at the University of Missouri-Kansas City soccer stadium Saturday night, dozens of his former teammates, both high school and club, played for him, for his memory and for their chance to say goodbye.
Between the band, the cheers and the plays, it seemed like any high school sports event.
But a closer look showed every jersey had the same number on the back and on the front with a simple tribute: RIP TR.
"It was the best way for us to say goodbye to him," said Clint Dunn, Rathbun's friend and teammate
The Twitter hashtag took off shortly after Rathbun was killed in a rollover all-terrain vehicle crash in Miami County on Nov. 25. Tributes started pouring in from all over the country. On college campuses nationwide, graduates wore light blue to honor the Shawnee Mission East soccer star.
High school alum even gathered for photos at the universities of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Yale and more to honor Rathbun.
"I believe that he had no idea that this many people loved him and loved being around him," said Jamie Kelly, Rathbun's high school and club soccer coach.
Saturday was just another way for friends to show how much they miss the real No. 14. The bright 17-year-old who always had a smile on his face, an infectious laugh and a soccer ball at his feet. He was someone people were drawn to and he drew energy from others.
"He was always there for anyone. You want to talk to him about anything, he'll listen to you. Real patient with it, just a great all around guy," Dunn said.
The outpouring of support has been huge for Rathbun's grieving family.
Rathbun's shop class at Shawnee Mission East presented his family with a table he started carving, and his classmates finished. One more way his friends are picking up the thread of his life.
"I'll never forget him. The school won't forget him. These guys won't forget him," Kelly said.
So even if he can't wear his jersey anymore, there's a field full of No. 14's ready to keep the ball driving forward.
"This is what he loved to do. So we're kind of saying one last time, 'See ya later.'" Dunn said.
The soccer game raised $7,000 between T-shirt sales and donations, which will all go toward a memorial fund to help children who can't afford to pay for club soccer, and a scholarship fund at Shawnee Mission East High School.
Those wishing to help can send their own donation to:
Tyler Rathbun Memorial Fund c/o Signature Funerals 8019 State Line Road Kansas City, MO 64114
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