Darrell Gill couldn’t tell you that Sunday is Father’s Day.
He only knows that Sunday is the last time he’ll be able to say goodbye to his only son.
A military memorial by the Navy is being held Sunday outside of Reno, Nev., for Josh Gill, who served the last eight years in the Navy, stationed in Lemoore, Calif.
He died from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in California on Memorial Day morning. Josh was 36.
Darrell said his son was born on Memorial Day and died on Memorial Day.
It was in 1998 that Darrell shared his greatest football memory with his son. Josh, a wide receiver, scored on an 81-yard catch-and-run on the third play of the big schools’ state championship football game, a lead Phoenix Desert Vista would never relinquish to Phoenix Brophy Prep on its way to capping a 14-0 season, the school’s first state title.
Darrell was part of Jim Rattay’s Desert Vista coaching staff then.
“It’s been a tough two weeks,” Darrell said. “Tired, depressed.”
All the great memories, and some of Josh’s closest friends, including Bobby Wade, have helped keep Darrell together during this time.
Wade was the state’s Player of the Year on that 1998 Desert Vista team, one of the state’s all-time greatest teams. Wade went on to a good career at the University of Arizona and in the NFL as a receiver.
Wade also helped Rattay with his Chavez program.
“Josh had a great spirit about him,” Rattay said. “A good Christian kid, a great athlete.”
A service was held last week for Gill. It was packed with former players and coaches, people that Josh and his father impacted.
“He was a hero-type guy,” Rattay said of Josh. “An officer in the Navy. He had men under him. He had a great attitude, a great work ethic. He was a chip off the old block, the same terrific person Darrell is. It’s a real loss for all of us, especially Darrell. He means the world to me, a big part of all of our success.”
Darrell Gill began coaching with Rattay in 1986.
Josh Gill played football at Phoenix College, walked on at ASU, before transferring to Western New Mexico, where he played for Bernie Busken, who is now the head coach at Phoenix North. Gill played in the NCAA Division II All-Star Game his last year. He stopped playing football after the All-American Football League that he was drafted into in 2007 never got launched.
A couple of years after getting married, Josh went into the Navy.
“Darrell was very proud of his son’s Navy career,” said former Laveen Cesar Chavez defensive coordinator Roger Britson, who coached with Gill. “My friendship with Darrell is one of the best I’ve ever had my whole life. His values, his morals, his ethics were all things he was most proud that his son had.”
A mechanic, Josh sometimes went on missions overseas with his naval strike force crew.
“He was pretty important to them,” said Darrell, who played defensive back at Arizona State in 1977 and ’78. “He was a special mechanic on a jet. He was deployed almost every year.”
For the past nine years, Darrell Gill was a varsity assistant football coach under Rattay at Laveen Cesar Chavez.
Since Rattay stepped down in December, Gill has been offered other assistant coaching jobs, including staying on at Chavez as the freshman coach. But he hasn’t thought of coaching.
“Darrell is my hero,” Rattay said. “He’s been a father figure to hundreds and hundreds of kids. He was the first guy I called when I got the job at Cesar Chavez. He took the difficult kids. They would stay at his house. He changed a lot of kids’ lives.”
Right now, Gill is just trying to get through each day. His daughter Danielle, 34, has been helping him.
On Father’s Day, he says goodbye one more time.
“The biggest thing I remember is all of the positives he shared with people,” Darrell said. “So many people shared so many nice things with me about him.
“He had no tattoos, no earrings. He was a very respectful, positive kid. That’s the biggest thing. I’m very proud of him. He was a blessed young man. Everybody loved him.”