ATLANTIC, Iowa — It is much more than a hashtag. “I break down quite a bit knowing he’s not here with me in Atlantic and he’s over there,” said Garrett McLaren. Now, #StrongAsSteele is providing hope in the Atlantic community. “Steele McLaren is kind of the epitome of our football team,” said Atlantic’s head football coach Mike McDermott.
On Sunday, Atlantic High School senior Steele McLaren fell off the back of a pickup truck during a hunting trip in Anita and was critically injured. It was less than 48 hours after he and his brother Garrett helped lead the Trojans past Des Moines Christian in the state playoffs. “You can go from so high to so low in the blink of an eye and it’s so heartbreaking to me,” said Garrett.
Steele was rushed to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for surgery on a fractured skull. Family members say he’ll be in a week-long medically induced coma. “He’s a fighter. He’s never backed down from anything and he’s not going to back down from this,” Garrett said.
Now, McDermott will take Atlantic to play at West Marshall Friday with a heavy heart. “That big wave of emotion comes crashing down and not only for me but the whole football team,” said McDermott.
The school district, town of Atlantic and communities across the state are now lifting up Steele’s fight as their own. “It truly is more than football. It’s more than just our community. It shows that everyone has love for everybody,” Garrett said.
From wearing Steele’s favorite outfit of gray and plaid, to downtown Atlantic store fronts and car windows screaming support. Garrett said, “It’s crazy to me how many people are on his side and in his corner in this fight and we aren’t alone either.”
The Trojans may be without Steele, but his #32 jersey will still be front and center Friday. Garrett said, “I plan on wearing his jersey on Friday night and the captains are taking his black jersey out there as an honorary captain.”
This is not the first time Steele has faced adversity. Each Friday night he has been an underdog as a 5’8, 130 pound defensive tackle. “I know Steele wouldn’t want us to hold back anything for this Friday, so we are going to go out and have some fun,” said Steele’s best friend and teammate, Gunner Kirchhoff.
On Friday, the Trojans will fight on two fronts. “Steele is going to want us to play. We are going to continue to do just that and just like he is battling in the hospital, we are going to continue to battle here on the field,” McDermott said.
The family has said surgery was successful and Steele is in stable condition. A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family’s medical expenses.