Liberty gridders honor former player by wearing white jerseys at home

When the Liberty High School Falcons played on their home field against the Sandy High School Pioneers Friday night, the game went into overtime — a nail-biter for both teams. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty football players carry the jersey of Hayden Carleton onto the field Friday night while Haydens mother, Anne Carleton, gets a hug from a Falcon coach (inset).

Yet it was a ceremony not directly related to the evening’s football game that made the most dramatic impression on local fans. It was Senior Night, and the last parent introduced was joined on the field by not one but four Liberty players. None of them were Anne Carleton’s son — her boy, Hayden, passed away two years ago — and the football players were there to honor her.

Hayden Carleton had been a lineman on the Falcons’ football team. He died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at Liberty.

On Aug. 6, 2011, Hayden dined at Five Guys Burgers & Fries with his mother. The pair later went out for a jog with their new dog, Clyde. Anne was ahead of Hayden, and the first time she looked back, her son was tying his shoes.

“I said, ‘Come on, hurry up,’ and he said, ‘Hold on,’” Anne recalled.

She ran on, but when she glanced back again, Hayden was standing with his arms straight down at his side. He murmured “chest” very faintly. Then, he tumbled forward, not attempting to break his fall.

The frantic mother ran to her son, dropped to her knees and began CPR while calling 911. The dog wriggled out of his harness, but Anne remained by Hayden’s side, continuing her attempts to save his life.

Anne’s heroic labors were in vain, however. Though paramedics continued administering CPR while en route to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Hayden was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

In the days and weeks after Hayden’s death, Anne was touched by acts of love that continued to flow from his fellow football players. According to senior running back Kyle Rose, the team had bonded with her and she had become “the heart and soul of the team.”

The bond was so strong that Liberty players honored Hayden — who would have graduated with the class of 2014 — by making his mom the final parent celebrated on Senior Night.

“They called me Thursday night (before the game),” Anne said. “Today on Facebook, one of them said, ‘I love you, Mom.’ Those are the words a mom wants to hear, right?”

The players, Hayden’s friends, have been the reason she returned to attending games this fall.

“These kids have carried me,” said Anne. “They are very cognizant, as they lost a friend, too. Last week, before the game, Austin (Krieck) pulled off his helmet and gave me a hug and a kiss.”

The seniors on the team approached head coach Eric Mahlum to request that players be allowed to wear white jerseys for Senior Night, although it would be their last home game and traditionally they would wear Falcon blue and gold. The final game Hayden played had been on the road, they reasoned, and he was wearing the white “away” uniform.

Mahlum agreed to the request, and made special arrangements with the Sandy coach to allow the change in uniforms. Then, at the coin toss, Hayden’s jersey, No. 52, was carried onto the football field between two Falcon players. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - The jersey worn by the late Hayden Carleton, who would have been a senior at Liberty High this year, is displayed on the team bench while players get ready for their game against Sandy Friday night.

As she looked on, tears streamed down Anne Carleton’s face.

“We wanted him represented and out there with us at the game,” said senior Matthew Langbehn, a running back and linebacker for Liberty. “He was one of the hardest-working players and definitely someone I admired for just how much he loved the game. He was always ready to work hard; always ready to push himself.”

Liberty didn’t get its hoped-for victory, losing 27-21 when Sandy overpowered the Falcon defense and crossed the goal line for a touchdown. The boys wept, but they were not defeated in spirit.

“I felt like [Hayden] was here,” said Langbehn. “I think he was a little disappointed, but he wants us to get back to work. We have Wilsonville next week, and I know he would want us to have a good game against them.”

Anne Carleton spent five-and-a-half hours texting different boys from the team on Saturday.

“The boys were saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Don’t be. You won because you showed up!’”

Hayden’s mother said she intends to continue inspiring that special band of student-athletes at Liberty.

“I didn’t know when Hayden died that I actually had 19 boys,” Anne said. “My duty now is to carry on his legacy.”

Her advice to the young men on the Liberty High School football team is to be resilient.

“When you think you’ve got nothing left, call a friend,” she said.

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