Hundreds gathered Thursday night on the Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School football field that Elijah Gorham loved so much to remember the 17-year-old who died too soon.
Above the balloon arch with the number “7″ in the middle, person after person remembered the Mervo senior for “not just being a young man, but a gentleman,” and vowed to dedicate the football season to him.
Nearly everyone held a lit candle, labeled with Gorham’s name in silver lettering, as they stood in front of tea lights that spelled out “Elijah Strong” and his jersey number, 7. In the distance, fireworks burst into the sky, almost as if Gorham were letting everyone know he was there.
“We will not let him down,” football coach and athletic director Patrick Nixon said.
The Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday that he died of cardiac arrest, multisystem organ failure and a traumatic brain injury.
Just before his injury, he had the fans in the stands buzzing when he ran a kickoff back 78 yards for a touchdown.
Nixon remembered how Gorham would regularly stop him in the hallway to ask him how he was doing or to just give him a hug to help brighten his day.
“Elijah taught me that through all the chaos, we need to stop and recognize greatness,” he said.
Kylish Hicks said Gorham was like a little brother to him and recalled how “even though he was annoying,” how his tenacity and grit on the field always prevailed.
“If I could tell him one more thing, it’d be thank you,” the football player said. “Thank you for making me run the next play even when I didn’t want to and thank you for making me a better person.”
Deandre Ferguson said he and Gorham were best friends and would constantly text each other — it was one of many things he’d miss. The football player encouraged everyone to smile big and wide because he knew Gorham “wouldn’t want us to be down.”
“Elijah, I know you can hear me up there,” Ferguson said as he stared into the sky. “I love you and I will always love you. Until we meet again.”
At the end of the vigil, attendees decked out in the school’s colors of blue and gold surrounded the track encircling Gorham’s coveted spot — the football field.
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Dozens of players stood in the middle and jumped around with their fists in the air chanting: “Forever a Mustang, #7 strong.”