ENGLEWOOD • As Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco hustled off the practice field Sunday, he had a question for the other quarterback on the sideline: “Is it cool if we get a picture with you?”
When your dad was a superhero, famous people request photos.
“Yes, sir,” Falcon High quarterback Stryder Sartor replied, his teenage smile as wide as the football he spun in one hand.
Like a lot of kids at Falcon High, Stryder is all “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.” Got it from his dad, you know, just like he got the athletic ability to play a half-dozen positions for the Falcons’ football team.
His father was late Fort Carson Green Beret James “Ryan” Sartor. His father was a superhero.
Sgt. Maj. Sartor died July 13 in a firefight in Afghanistan, his seventh deployment since joining the Army in 2001. His memorial service drew so many mourners it had to be moved to the Air Force Academy Cadet Protestant Chapel. The Broncos responded by hosting the Sartor family at training camp — widow Deanna Sartor, her parents David and Debora Unger, daughter Grace, son Garrett and Stryder, a junior at Falcon and a Cowboys fan (like his dad) turned Broncos fan after Sunday.
“They all signed it,” Stryder said, hoisting a football autographed by a bunch of Broncos.
Sgt. Major Sartor was 40 when he was killed in the Afghanistan war. You may have noticed flags at half-staff, and he’s why. We have the good fortune at The Gazette of writing about a lot of heroes, because where we live, work and play is full of them. Still, Gazette reporter Liz Henderson’s jarring, heartfelt account on Ryan Sartor jumped off these pages and straight into my heart: four Bronze Star Medals, four Army Commendation Medals, the Army’s highest enlisted rank, leader, mentor, husband, dad, friend, brother.
Wish I had known the man.
“You and me both,” Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell said.
And I wish you all could’ve seen how the Broncos welcomed the Sartor family.
The introduction started with PR guru Patrick Smyth and John Elway, as things around here often do. Flanked by Matt Russell, Elway cruised over to find the Sartors for a 20-minute conversation during practice. Jewell and Todd Davis, a couple of linebackers, followed.
Then Tim Patrick, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver who stood just above eye level to Stryder Sartor, a 6-2 quarterback/linebacker/everything at Falcon. Then Garett Bolles, Emmanuel Sanders, Kevin Hogan, Drew Lock, Jake Butt, Mike Munchak, Jeff Heuerman, Sam Jones, Chaz Green, Brandon McManus, Ryan Crozier, Bug Howard, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay ...
“It’s an honor to meet you guys. I’m Justin Simmons. Thank you so much for being here.”
“Derek Wolfe. Very nice to meet you. Heard you’re a quarterback?”
“It’s Stryder, right? I’m Dalton Risner. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much for coming.”
For one memorable afternoon the Broncos threw a giant bear hug around the Sartor family.
“Least we can do,” Jewell said. “Coach (Vic) Fangio told us the whole story in the huddle after practice. It’s incredible. Situations like that, you don’t know what to say. You don’t know what they’re feeling. You just try to let them know that we’re here for you. You hear about it, (and) it’s real-life superhero stuff.”
“Heard there’s some Aggies over here!” Von Miller shouted. “Gig ‘em, baby!”
Ryan Sartor was a down-to-earth Texan, friends said at his memorial. Deanna Sartor’s from Odessa. That’s Friday Night Lights country. That’s Texas A&M Aggies country. Hey, we know one of those.
“What’s your name, ma’am?” Von said to the little girl holding the football.
Grace. She was a student manager on Falcon’s squad, but she’s switched over to cheerleading.
“Throw me a pass, Grace?”
Von ran a crossing pattern, and Grace drilled him on the numbers, 58.
“That’s the best play I made all day!” Von yelled.
Falcon opens football practice Monday. “Love the kids we have at this school. Love my team,” coach Chris Waca said by phone. “And we’re going to work ‘em.” The turnout for summer weightlifting was “exceptional,” and the season opener on Sept. 6 vs. Pueblo Central can’t get here soon enough.
“I’ll play anywhere they need me,” Stryder said.
Coach, tell me about Stryder Sartor.
“One word: wonderful,” Waca said.
Not surprised. The kid’s got superhero blood.