The American flag came folded up in a special package to the Temple football office, delivered just before the start of the 2011 season, with backup quarterback Connor Reilly in mind.
His father, Lt. Col. Neil Reilly, flew with the flag as a squadron commander in the Army on several missions in Afghanistan. Neil Reilly sent the flag to show his love and appreciation for the school and his son, a gesture many in the military make to the most special and supportive people in their lives.
What Neil Reilly could not have known when he sent the flag was how Connor would end up honoring him every game day.
As a third-string quarterback at Temple, Connor Reilly does not get much playing time. But you can say he had the most meaningful job of anybody on the Owls sideline.
Coach Steve Addazio suggested that Connor run onto the field before every game waving that U.S. flag, as way of paying tribute to his father and the many others fighting for our freedom.
Connor Reilly, incredibly humbled, said he would.
But he kept it a secret from his family. He wanted to wait until his father could see him run out with the flag in person.
Neil Reilly was scheduled to return to the United States on leave in September, and set to attend the home game against Penn State on Sept. 17. Connor ran onto the field with the flag, to the incredible surprise of his family members in the stands. His mother cried. But his father was delayed, and did not arrive until halftime. Neil learned what Connor did as soon as he took his seat.
After the game, a tough 14-10 loss, father and son embraced. And cried.
"I was overwhelmed," Connor Reilly said in a recent phone interview. "I felt pretty cool to be able to do that."
Neil Reilly said, "I don’t think you understand the magnitude of the event until you're there to see it, and it’s really the appreciation of not only the other folks at the game but the fact that your son -- who’s playing two sports in college and a teenager -- is putting that effort into it. That just demonstrates he supports what I’m doing, it’s a role reversal if you will. Usually it's the parents that are there to support their children."
Neil showed his support as well. While deployed from February 2011 until February 2012, he served as the commander of the 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary Regiment of the 101st Division (Air Assault). The unit was a helicopter task force that flew reconnaissance and security missions throughout Kandahar Province in support of ground forces. On every single one of his missions, he flew with the Temple flag.
That was his idea. On Nov. 10, 2010, he and his wife attended the Temple-Miami (Ohio) football game. Before the game began, he told the coaches he would be honored to fly the Temple colors. Director of football operations Ed Foley and athletic equipment supervisor Paul Kelly gave Neil Reilly the Temple flag that is carried into the stadium on game days.
In addition to flying with the flag, Reilly also flew it beneath the Squadron Battle Flag over his command post. He returned the Temple flag to the football offices before the start of the 2011 season. In the same package, he enclosed an American flag and a certificate that had pictures of the Temple flag proudly displayed on base.
Neil Reilly is stateside again, and recently moved to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana. Connor Reilly only played in three football games last season, but he got his shot on the baseball field, and became the only two-sport male athlete at Temple. Reilly started 38 games in the outfield, hitting .263 with 36 hits and 25 RBI.
Baseball is, in fact, his first love and it is a sport that runs in the family. Neil played for the Texas Rangers. Connor's grandfather played for the Philadelphia A's and Seattle Rainiers. Connor did not play baseball in his first season at Temple because he wanted to see how football turned out for him first, particularly because of the coaching switch to Addazio.
After his freshman season, he asked Addazio if he could do both, and the coach said yes. Now that he's done both for a season, Connor has no plans to give up one sport. This season, Connor will continue to wear a headset and signal in the calls from the sideline to starting quarterback Chris Coyer.
And of course, he plans to continue running onto the field with the U.S. flag.