Former Warren football player Tate Hankla, 19, died in his sleep earlier this month and the Warren community has been reeling with grief.
It might be a generalization, but a safe one, to say that teenagers typically don't like early mornings.
But teenager Tate Hankla woke up early each day in the summer and the fall of 2018 when he didn't have to.
Hankla used to play football at Warren before leaving the program to focus on lacrosse. When he heard that two of his best friends wanted to go out for football as seniors but didn't have a ride to get to the early morning lifting sessions before school, Hankla stepped to action.
"It was me and Casey Cobe. We both live in the same neighborhood as Tate and were good friends with Tate. And even though Tate wasn't playing football, he was so excited that we were going to play," Patrick Sharpe said. "When we told Tate that we didn't have a ride to weightlifting, he told us that he would drive us. Before 6 a.m. Every day. He would just park in the parking lot while we lifted and do his homework, then he'd come in when school started. He did that every day for us.
"That's just how Tate was. If he cared about someone, he'd do anything for them. When I would thank him for driving us, he would say, 'I'd do anything to see you guys play football.'"
Hankla's generosity with friends, his selflessness in working with special needs students at Warren, and his infectious smile and personality triggered an outpouring of grief and tribute earlier this month when news broke that Hankla had died in his sleep at home on the night of May 2.
Hankla, a 2019 Warren graduate who played two years of football, and four years of lacrosse and was getting As in his classes at the University of Florida until he returned home to shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, didn't look good as he prepared for bed on that Saturday night.
He was just 19 years old. The cause of his death is unknown.
"I saw him the day before he died," said Sharpe, Hankla's best friend, and one of three guys from the same neighborhood who regularly hung out with Hankla. The four friends grew up together and played sports together.
"We all went fishing that day," Sharpe said. "We did that a decent amount. Tate liked fishing. We had a great day, and I just remember how happy Tate was and how much fun we were having.
"When I found out the next day from my mom, I was just in denial. I kept saying, 'No, no.' I kept thinking it couldn't be true."
But it was, and word spread fast. Within days, Hankla's friends and the Warren community did the only thing they really could do in this age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no scheduled funeral for Hankla, plans were made to conduct a "ride-by" tribute past his house. His parents Lisa and Todd stood outside and waved as more than 300 cars slowly drove by to show their support and love for Hankla and his family.
"He was an outstanding kid. So many people loved him," said Warren football coach Bryan McNulty, who posted a touching tribute to Hankla on social media in the wake of his death. "He was such a positive kid in school. You wouldn't be able to find a person who would say a bad word about him. Just a really good kid."
The drive-by tribute for Hankla was organized at Warren's O'Plaine campus on May 9 and an estimated 600 people participated. Current students as well as Warren graduates from the last few years came out for Hankla.
"I wasn't surprised by that at all," Sharpe said. "Tate affected so many lives and that was just proof that he lived his life to the max. I was just glad we got to honor him in some way."
Sharpe took a video of the drive-by parade to remember the day that everyone came out for his best friend.
But it is a recent audio clip that he will cherish even more deeply as the days without Tate turn into weeks and the weeks turn into years.
The day before Hankla died, he and Sharpe and a couple of the other friends in their group did a podcast together. For no particular reason, really. They were simply looking for a fun, different thing to do to pass the time during the quarantine.
The friends, who grew up together since first grade and rode the school bus together for years, talked about some of their favorite memories together.
"We were talking about old childhood memories, some of the bad things we did, you know, kid stuff. It was funny, there were a lot of inside jokes," Sharpe said. "We were laughing and having fun and Tate sounded so happy. He was happy to be home from college and hanging out with his friends."
Sharpe sent the recording to Hankla's parents.
"They said it is such a blessing," Sharpe said. "They were so thankful for it. They said it was such a gift just to be able to hear his voice. I've been listening to it a lot, too."