Under gray skies Saturday, a somber silence filled the air on Coach Mike McKillop Memorial football field as the Riverhead Blue Waves honored one of their own. Prior to a Division II game against Centereach, the football team retired the jersey of Tech Sgt. Dashan Briggs.
Riverhead Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez referred to Tech. Sgt. Briggs as a “hometown hero,” and said his legacy will live on in Riverhead.
“His life story will be told again and again to the students,” she said during the ceremony. “His determination, self-discipline and perseverance will serve as a reminder to us all of what is possible when we work hard to attain our goals and dreams.”
A 2007 graduate of Riverhead High School, Tech. Sgt. Briggs played lacrosse and was a two-way player for the Blue Waves’ varsity football team. The 30-year-old was a member of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach and one of seven service members who died in a helicopter crash along the Iraq-Syria border in March.
He stood out on the Blue Waves’ 2006 team that went undefeated in the regular season as an outside linebacker and running back whose energy was magnetic on the field.
“He was tough as nails as a football player. He was a very intelligent football player,” said varsity coach Leif Shay. “He was a great athlete, but his work ethic made him an even better athlete.”
Finding those kind of athletes, he said, is rare.
“Usually you get a kid with great athletic talent but doesn’t have the work ethic to match,” Mr. Shay said.
His former coaches, including middle school and assistant varsity coach Sal Loverde remember his wit on the field and smile most of all.
“He could brighten up the football field with that smile,” Mr. Shay said.
“Especially if we were heating on each other and having some fun,” Mr. Loverde added.
He first met Tech. Sgt. Briggs as a middle school student.
“But I really got to know him on the grass and dirt behind the middle school where we practiced football. You saw his grit and determination,” Mr. Loverde said during the ceremony. “You can see how he carried that throughout his whole life.”
Two No. 22 jerseys were presented to his wife, Rebecca, and children Jayden, 3, and Ava, 2.
“I think he’d be humbled. He’s looking down and he’s happy,” Ms. Briggs said. “He made a statement in life and hopefully he just inspires others to do good, to do what’s right.”
She recalled her husband having a love for the sport, and would still talk about Riverhead football memories with his friends.
“I could tell you every single story like I was there, because they talked about it every single time they got together. They loved talking about football. He was very proud, because he was good,” she said, smiling.
Among teammates, Tech. Sgt. Briggs is remembered as a “jokester” who knew how to make people laugh. “He was passionate about football,” said classmate Kevin Curtis. “He worked hard in both the weight room and in practice.”
The men shared football lockers next to one another and were synergistic on the field, both playing on the right side. Mr. Curtis, a defensive end, recalled a saying they shared: “right side, strong side.”
Seeing his number retired means a lot to the former Blue Wave. “If anyone in this town deserves it, it’s him,” Mr. Curtis said. “He’s the true definition of a role model and a stand up guy.”
A sign bearing Tech. Sgt. Briggs’ name and jersey atop the press box was also unveiled, marking the first retired jersey to be displayed on the football field. “His jersey, No. 22, will be part of this school, this field and this community forever,” said athletic director Brian Sacks.
It marks the third time in school history that a number has been retired, officials said. Derrick Robinson, No. 36 and Henry Franke, No. 50, are also retired.
Before kickoff at 1:30 p.m., Mr. Loverde asked spectators to pause to listen to the National Anthem and “think of the ultimate sacrifice Dashan made so we can enjoy the wonderful freedoms and the fantastic games that we have today. I know he has the best seat in the house,” Mr. Loverde said, looking skyward as the sun broke through. “Enjoy the game, my friend.”
Top photo caption: Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks presents Rebecca Briggs with two jerseys. (Credit: Tara Smith)