It was the most difficult game of John Fountain's football career.
It also might have been the best.
"If I was critiquing myself, I don't think I ever played better," Fountain said of his performance in Deptford's 21-13 victory over Schalick on Oct. 13 in a West Jersey Football League game.
It was remarkable that Fountain even took the field that Friday night. His mother, Gerilyn — the president of the team's booster club and his biggest fan — had died suddenly two days earlier.
"I missed practice Wednesday and Thursday," Fountain said. "I played every snap on Friday night. It was very hard to play but me and my dad (also named John) talked about it and we both said that she would have wanted me to play."
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Fountain, a standout center, will continue his football career at Kean University. He hopes to pursue a career as an athletic trainer.
Fountain will take the field at Kean in advance of his days as a college player. He has been chosen to participate in the Phil Simms North-South All-Star Football Classic on June 25 at the school in Union.
"It's probably the biggest deal of my year," Fountain said. "I didn't think I'd get chosen for any all-star game and then to get chosen for the biggest one in the state, at the college where I'm going, it makes it special."
Fountain played right tackle as a sophomore but moved to center as a junior and senior. He was a top player and team leader for the Spartans, according to coach Steve Scuderi.
"He was everything you want in a kid in your program," Scuderi said. "He's such a hard worker. Spent so much time in the weight room. He was just one of those kids who buys in when you are trying to build something.
"You build a program around a kid like him."
Scuderi said the entire program rallied around Fountain after the death of his mother.
"We were all so proud of him," Scuderi said. "As coaches, we left it up to him. Whatever he needed. He wanted to play. He felt it was important and I know how much it meant to his teammates for him to show that kind of dedication to the program."
John Fountain Sr. said he and his wife used to joke to family and friends that they would be indisposed in the fall because of their commitment to support their children.
"Our daughter was a cheerleader," Fountain Sr. said of Sabrina, 20. "Our son always played football We used to tell people, 'We're unavailable from August to November because we have cheerleading and football.'"
Fountain said his wife was president of the football booster club in their son's sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.
"Me and my wife, we made a point of never missing anything that our kids were involved in," Fountain. said.
Said Scuderi: "She did so much for these kids, this program, team dinners, behind-the-scenes stuff."
Gerilyn Fountain was 43 when she died from complications after surgery, her husband said.
"It was totally unexpected," Fountain said. "The day before she passed, the doctors were talking to us about her coming home."
Before the Oct. 13 game, Deptford officials wrote "G.F" on the game ball. Afterward, they presented it to the family.
"I was never so nervous to play a game in my life," the younger Fountain said. "Even the first varsity game I ever played, I wasn't this nervous.
"I was so emotional. I don't know what it was, but I think it was the best game I ever played. I know it was. I was so focused and into it. I knew my whole family was watching.
"I never felt like that in a game before. When it was over, to be able to embrace my family, my dad, my sister, by aunts and uncles and cousins, it just felt so good to have them all around me."
His father said he was "super proud" to see his son play with such purpose and passion just two days after the death of his mother.
"He did great and the whole team did great," the elder Fountain said. "They fell behind in that game, but they came back and really took over the game."
Said his son: "That was our first home win of the season."
Fountain said his mother's death inspired him to be a better football player, student and person.
"My mom was such a hard-working person," Fountain said. "She was one of the best people to ever be around. Her passing, I've tried to make it make me into a better person, a better human being. I've tried to take her energy and put it into my life."
Fountain said he knew Kean University was the place for him during his visit there earlier this spring. He liked the campus, felt a good rapport with the coaches and players.
He felt something else as well.
"My mom would have loved it."
Phil Simms North-South All-Star Game
At Kean University, June 25, 7 p.m..
Milestone: This is the 40th anniversary of the game which matches players selected by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association.