It's common for Zach Brewer to receive a text message from his Aunt Tammy prior to every football game he plays for Albion College. The directive Tammy typed on the eve of the Britons' Sept. 8 clash with then-10th-ranked Wheaton College was not the usual warm greeting to extend best wishes for a good game.
Albion played host to Wheaton the day before Brewer's mom, Heidi, would have celebrated her 42nd birthday. Heidi wasn't in the stands for Zach's game-tying 21-yard touchdown reception with 1:30 remaining – or for any game since the end of his freshman year – because she perished in an accident while driving to work March 29, 2011.
"[My mom's passing] was tough to deal with, but I'm lucky to have a great family behind me," Brewer said. "I was a mama's boy growing up. We did everything together. She never missed a sporting event, even though I was playing four sports. The only one that was tough for her to get to was track because the meets started so early, but she would show up and always cheer me on.
"Before the Wheaton game I got a text message from my aunt. She said, 'We got a good victory [over Defiance College] last week, but it's the day before your mom's birthday, let's make this one for her.' I slept on that all night and thought it would be nice to upset No. 10 and say it's for my mom."
Brewer had his mom on his mind all day – from the pregame moment of silence the Britons observe in the locker room to the final drive. The junior from Adrian, Mich., wasn't the first option for quarterback Spencer Krauss on the decisive fourth-down play, but he knew the pass might be coming his way based on Wheaton's defensive alignment.
"We were on that final drive and the whole time I'm thinking, 'Be here with us. Guide us through here. Show us the light. Find us a way to win,'" said Brewer, who finished the day with two receptions for 33 yards. "Halfway through my route I realized I was open and hoped he would throw me the ball. I turned out of my break and I'm seeing the ball come in, I scored the touchdown and immediately I was ecstatic. For me, it was probably the greatest sports moment I've had based on how the game was being played and the emotion that was put into it."
How was Brewer able to concentrate on making the reception in such a pressure-packed situation with so much weighing on his mind? "I've caught so many passes in my life that it's fundamental now," he said. "I made sure to look the ball in, the full way in. There's a picture from behind the end zone and you can see the point of the ball directly between my fingers. As a kid you are taught to make a diamond with your hands, to let the point of the ball hit the diamond and to catch the ball with the fingers."
After the ensuing extra point put the Britons in front, 22-21, Brewer retreated to a solitary place on the sideline where he could continue the monologue with his mother, expressing his desire for the defense to make a final stop to preserve the victory. The Britons did just that, to the delight of the nearly 3,400 in attendance at Spankle-Sprandel Stadium.
He stayed to himself after the contest, kneeling down by the goal post in the east end zone where he had scored. His family – Aunt Tammy, grandmother Darlene Carson, and father James – were unable to locate him until he stood.
"I finally stood five minutes after we broke [from the postgame meeting with the receiving corps] and they were looking for me the whole time, but they couldn't find me," Brewer said. "I hugged my aunt first and she was crying, I was crying. She told me my mom was proud of me and that she was looking down smiling saying, 'That's my boy.'
"Then I hugged grandma and that's when I probably started crying the hardest because my mom was the youngest of her four children and it was really hard on my grandma," he added. "Watching me playing football is her way of letting all that emotion go. She loves watching me play."
Brewer continued, "When I finally got back to my fraternity I looked at my girlfriend and said, 'This is a dream come true.' I never would have thought to win the game would happen that way on already an emotional day for my family. There are still times when I wonder if the catch really happened, but every time I look at the video all I can do is smile."
While Brewer's catch will endure as a memorable play, the Britons hope there are more signature moments during the 2012 season. Hoisting the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship trophy in November – a successful league title defense – is still one of the team's ultimate goals.
"It's tough to let that moment go," Brewer said. "I'm never going to forget it, but I can't keep living in that moment all season. There are more games to be played and each game is going to be different.
"I'm striving every day to make myself the best player I can be," he added. "The little things – mental preparation, watching film, working hard in practice – don't change week to week."