MILFORD — Cole Egersheim admittedly was surprised when he was called out to the pregame coin toss as one of Law’s game captains before a game vs. visiting Bethel.
“I was like, alright, maybe I had a good week of practice or something,” the senior said.
That surprise was nothing compared to the one in store for him when he reached midfield.
His father, Joe Egersheim, a Master Sargent in the United States Army Reserve, had covertly joined the officiating crew, dressed in a referee costume.
Joe Egersheim had just returned home from a tour in Kuwait.
Cole hadn’t seen his dad in nearly a year and hadn’t the faintest idea that he’d returned home.
But Cole sure did recognize that laugh.
“I heard him start laughing, using his little snicker — ‘Heh heh heh,'” Cole said. “So I was like, ‘That’s him. Dang.'”
Cole Egersheim buckled over in disbelief as his dad came over to give him a hug. They were quickly joined by younger daughter Olivia for a long embrace which elicited cheers from the crowd had Law’s coaches misty-eyed on the sidelines.
“I literally started crying a bit,” Law coach Erik Larka said. “I looked at my defensive coordinator, Tom Drea, and he had some tears coming down. And watching some of the reactions, it was kind of surreal. It kind of put football on the back burner for a little while.”
The idea came from Cole’s mother Robin Egersheim and her friends. When Robin learned her husband would be coming home a month early from his tour, she and Larka organized the setup. One of her friends procured a referee’s uniform. Larka asked Law athletic director V.J. Sarullo if he could get the officiating crew to go along with the ruse. They eagerly agreed.
Since Law’s players had a few hours after school before they were required to report to the field, everyone involved had to stash Joe somewhere out of sight until kickoff.
When it came time for the coin tooss, Joe Egersheim was a bundle of nerves.
“I was nervous about it,” he said. “I’d never done anything like this before in my life. I had a thousand things going through my mind and I didn’t know how (Cole) would react.
“What’s funny is when I got out there, I turned and faced the head referee so (Cole) still didn’t realize it was me until the announcer mentioned we had a guest referee. That’s when I turned around and started laughing. I guess they say I have a funny, recognizable laugh. That’s when he knew.”
The last time Joe Egersheim had seen his son play in person was just a couple weeks into Cole’s junior season. He left for his deployment training on Sept. 28 of last year and would have friends call him with play-by-play of games. He left for Kuwait in December.
Joe began his journey back from Kuwait in late August, stopping at Fort Hood, Texas and then to see his eldest daughter, Tayla, in Utah. Though word trickled home about his early return home, the rest of the family kept the secret until the big reveal before kickoff.
“It was very surreal,” Cole said of the experience. “I missed him so much. It was crazy. I hadn’t seen him in so long it was nice to finally get to talk to him.
“It made me want to have a better game, made me want to play better.”
And he did. Just four plays into the game — right after getting hit with a personal foul — Egersheim intercepted a pass. He also caught a touchdown pass, which was overturned due to a penalty, and kicked five extra points.
“I think getting the W, getting an interception and see your dad for the first time in a year… It was probably one of the best nights of his life up until this point,” Larka said of Cole.
It certainly was for Master Sargent Egersheim.
“It was the highlight of my life,” he said. “Besides having my kids, it was the highlight of my life.”
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