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Stillman steps up

Daily Pilot High School Football Player of the Week

Dealing with a death in his family, Estancia junior helps lead Eagles to victory in the Battle for the Bell.

November 18, 2011|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza
(Kevin Chang / Daily…)

At the start of last week, Levi Stillman came home like any other day after practice at Estancia High.

Stillman was preparing for his biggest football game of his life, the biggest football game the city of Costa Mesa has ever held. In four days, rivals Estancia and Costa Mesa would play for a league title in the regular-season finale for the first time.

The Battle for the Bell meant more than city bragging rights.

After the first day of practice, Stillman felt ready. Nothing could prepare him for the news he received from his mother Stacy that night at home.

Monday night is when Stillman said he found out his uncle Michael passed away from liver complications.

"My mom just came in and was like, 'Do you remember he called you Buster Brown?'" said Stillman, remembering how his uncle always thought he resembled the comic strip character with the pageboy haircut. "Then she told me [he died]."

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Stillman broke down. A football game was four days away and Stillman never thought about missing it.

Getting through each day wasn't easy.

"Monday was hard. Tuesday was hard," said Stillman, as each day passed. "I wanted to play for him. Just have to play for him."

Stillman played and put on quite the performance under the lights at Jim Scott Stadium.

The skinniest player on the field caught almost everything thrown his way. The 135-pound wide receiver went into the game with just four receptions. He matched that total against Costa Mesa.

The biggest grabs turned out to be the two touchdown passes he caught from quarterback Brad Wilson. The scores were the difference in the Eagles beating Costa Mesa, 28-14, to cap an undefeated Orange Coast League title.

As his teammates celebrated their second straight league crown, Stillman let it all out. His face said it all. Tears ran down his cheeks.

"I couldn't really hold it in," said Stillman, who stayed composed during the game. "When you step on the football field, everything else kind of goes away. It is kind of an escape of reality."

Someone called Stillman the man of the hour.

In the next hours, all Stillman thought about was the man he lost, his uncle.

When he got home late that night, Stillman hugged his mom.

"She said I played great and Uncle Michael would be proud," Stillman said. "It meant a lot."

Stillman paid his final respects to his uncle on Wednesday. He missed practice to attend his uncle's funeral.

Coach Mike Bargas understood why.

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