“He taught me so much:” Football player shines through darkness of cousin’s passing

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The march to Madison continues, with only 8 high school football teams left in each division. The playoffs are a time to shine and for one player, a time to carry on the spirit of a close friend and relative.

It's the night before the lights go on for Friday night football and the Marquette University Hilltoppers are stoked. They're within two victories of playing for a state championship in division one. It is a wonderful time of year for these students and athletes -- but for one player in particular, it's bittersweet.

"It was really just completely a shock. It's just something you never expect to happen," said Jack Horter, Marquette senior linebacker.

Jack Horter and his cousin, Ben Meinzer, were best friends almost from the moment they were born -- 4 months apart, almost 18 years ago.

Ben came into the world with spina bifida. He passed away unexpectedly from a seizure in the middle of the night on August 31st.

"If you knew Ben, he would give you the shirt off his back. Even as a little kid I'd ask him, 'what would you wish for if you had 3 wishes?' He would always wish for the happiness of other people. He would never wish to walk or anything, the least I can do is write my name on his arm and play in his honor. Cause it really is an honor," said Jack.

Indeed, Horter played every game this year for his cousin. Jack wears Ben's name on his arm and shoes. He carries his spirit close to his heart.

"He taught me so much, but I'd say that he was the most selfless person. He was just always in such a good mood. So positive with other people, it was just inspirational," said Jack.

Going into Friday night's level 3 playoff game against Franklin, the Hilltoppers had won 9 straight games. Ben's mom knows that her son has been with them every step of the way.

"You could just feel the energy, and I know Ben's looking down on him and just so proud of him. It feels good to know that there are other people surrounding him and remembering him even when he's gone, his legacy will still go on forever," said Shelly Meinzer, Ben's mother.

"When you see Jack on the field, he's been described as a beast and he is. But every once in a while, he'll look up, or he'll touch his arm, or he'll do something special and I know that was for Ben," said Susie Horter, Jack's mother.

"Jack is one of our more spirited players. He's got a motor that won't quit and he has an attitude that goes beyond football. He's got an attitude that this is how you approach life. Jack lives that every single day, and so that spirit of Ben is livin' on in Jack," said Marquette Head Coach, Jeff Mazurczak.

"Just to see him before he passed away and now, it makes me want to go and change the world for the better, like I know he would have," said Jack.