MARPLE — Under ominous skies Thursday morning, there were few sounds at Cardinal O'Hara's football field.
The muggy air was bereft of the usual trappings of a summer morning — a chorus of barked-out encouragement for the scheduled preseason camp, the shrill command of a whistle prescribing the next drill, the cacophony of athletes panting, grunting and (dare it be said) even laughing their way through a workout.
What replaced that Thursday was a series of somber hugs, embraces of consolation, of remembrance, of loss. Instead of wiping away sweat from their faces, the O'Hara campers were left to clear away tears for a life deeply cherished.
The news was delivered Thursday to those players, the next crop to inherit the mantle of Cardinal O'Hara's football program, that their coach and mentor, Danny Algeo, had died from complications of a heart attack suffered earlier this week. The architect of the Lions' program for the last decade was 49.
The devastating news was conveyed in a manner befitting all that Algeo built at O'Hara — not disseminated as if to campers or to football players or to kids, but to a group of young men who Algeo had helped shape into a family of brothers.
Apropos of that relationship, the remembrances of Algeo by former players were only tangentially about football. That was the thread that united them, the one that brought many of them to O'Hara, the one that allowed Algeo to shape them into a family as well as a team. The fact that they were drawn to this idea fostered by Algeo and brought together by ambition more than just some geography, served to forge the relationship between them.
The orchestrator was Algeo, omnipresent on the sidelines, ready with a handshake as every athlete arrived and left for the day and a prayer for every huddle. No one beat him into the weight room in the morning, and no one saw him leave at night, of that he made sure.
That strength of will makes his passing all the more jarring to those left to mourn.
"It seems like a nightmare, like it's just not real life," said All-Delco kicker Steve Weyler. "I mean, it's coach Algeo. ... Right now it doesn't seem real. He wasn't just my coach. He was my friend, my biggest supporter and my biggest fan. I'm just in disbelief that he's gone. I've got an angel watching over me this season, and I know I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."
Football was in Algeo's blood. His father, Jim, a head coach at Lansdale Catholic for over a half-century, made sure the game was passed down to Algeo and his brother, Jim, a well-traveled assistant in the area.
That mode of transmission — by way of family — remained a hallmark of Algeo's style. Each fall, as he brought players together to play football, he knew one had to precede the other — that success on the gridiron would be impossible if the team mentality didn't take root away from it.
That meant in the classroom, in the weight room, in cookouts and gatherings galore, Algeo would meld young men from different backgrounds and different areas of Delco into a cohesive unit that was so much more than a team.
"We always say we're one big family, and things like this show how strong that bond is," said Weyler, who'll kick next year at Villanova. "It shows how big of an impact he had on so many people, and not just football players. Today I've talked to guys I haven't talked to in four or five years. We all come together because we need each other."
"He stressed that the first day we got there, that we were a family," said Thaddius Smith, an All-Delco who'll continue his career at Boston College in the fall. "It was going to take all of us to win. It's not just one person. It's going to take everyone."
Algeo had the trappings of the archetypal football coach — Weyler references his "Irish temper" that surfaced from time to time to go with a taskmaster demeanor when necessary. His statistics — 98 wins in 15 seasons on the job, including 68 in 10 campaigns with O'Hara — illustrate the loss sustained by the coaching community.
But the numbers capture a tiny fraction of Algeo's influence, a reality corroborated by the nearly two dozen faces of Lions playing in college who adorn the program's website or by the three Lions who will participate in NFL camps in the coming weeks.
"He had a very huge impact on my life the past four years,' Smith said. "I know without him I wouldn't be here right now, because of the connections he has with coaches. He wanted the best for everyone on the team. He wanted us to be great. I'm happy I got to know him as a coach and a father figure. No doubt he helped me get to next level."
"He made every single player feel like they were the most important player in the world, no matter what," Weyler said. "He made every day better, made you smile every day."
That's what was missing most poignantly Thursday as the O'Hara players gathered: Algeo, sporting his blue Under Armour shirt, veneered in sunscreen against the summer heat, ready with a workout, a prayer and a lesson whose meaning wasn't confined to the field of play.
That's a void that won't soon be filled in the hearts and minds of many.