HYATTSVILLE - - Steven Dankos' life revolved around his family, his friends and, for the past three years, the River Hill High School football team.
Those three groups made up the majority of the 1,500 mourners who packed St. Mark the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church on Thursday for a touching tribute to the 17-year-old senior who was killed early Sunday.
Dankos died when the pickup truck driven by the elder brother of one of his best friends and teammates crashed and overturned on a rural Howard County road in what police have called an alcohol-related fatality.
Many of the mourners were students at the Clarksville school, including members of the team who wore their football jerseys over their shirts and ties. Six of them served as pallbearers.
While recalling Dankos "as a fun-loving" youth who was extremely close to his family - particularly his mother, Nancy Davis, as well as two younger siblings - the Rev. John Dakes also had a message for many of Dankos' friends and classmates.
"Think before acting," Dakes said. "Think before drinking."
The accident took place a little more than a day after the Hawks, who had two straight state titles, saw their 40-game winning streak end in the state Class 3A semifinals.
According to police, Dankos was riding in the bed of a pickup driven by David Erdman Jr., a former River Hill standout and college Division III All-America. Erdman, 22, was arrested Sunday and charged with driving under the influence, as well as vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He is free on $10,000 bond.
Erdman's younger brother, Thomas, who was named the top defensive player in Howard County this week by coaches, was injured in the crash. An investigation into the crash is continuing, and police have not said whether the two 17-year-olds had been drinking that night.
Dakes, the former pastor at the Prince George's County church where Dankos had attended school through eighth grade before the family moved to Howard County, said that David Erdman and his family should be forgiven. Dakes said that Nancy Davis had suggested as much during her only public comments since her son's death.
Looking out into a sea of sad eyes, Dakes said the turnout for the teenager was a "legacy of love." Recalling a story about the wife of a rabbi who had to figure out a way to tell her husband that their two children had been killed, Dakes said the woman concluded that they had been "precious jewels who had to be returned to God." So, too, was Dankos, he said.
The circumstances surrounding the accident are still unclear, but Max Coale, a River Hill senior and football team captain, said he hoped "a lot of kids will take this to heart."
Bob Hogue, whose son was a teammate of Dankos' and whose wife, Sandy, helped Nancy Davis in her duties as "team mom," said after the service that Dankos was a "great kid" with "a lot of zeal for football."
Like others with high school-age children, Hogue said that Dankos' death "certainly resonates with the parents" and that drinking and driving - even being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking - "is something we talk about all the time with the kids."
Hogue said he doesn't know the details surrounding the accident, but "if that [drinking] was part of the circumstance, maybe the good that will come out of it is that other kids will not make a similar mistake."