After losing parents, Irondale HS senior gave up football to support family

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A metro area teen forced to deal with the recent loss of both parents is getting some big time help from his caring community.

17-year-old Sam Heras had to walk away from the Irondale High School football team in the middle of the season in order to help pay the bills as his family struggled to keep their home.
Heras is no ordinary teen. He lost his dad to cancer a year-and-a-half ago.

"When we found out, it was already stage 4," Heras told Fox 9. "So we couldn't figure out what it was. It was pretty hard because he was everything to me."

Months after his dad passed away, his 42-year-old mom became gravely ill. The bills piled up and the family’s house in Arden Hills was foreclosed upon. Sam, who was on track to graduate in the spring, made the decision that he needed to earn as much money as possible. So, he lightened his class load and walked away from his beloved Knights football team.

"Friday nights, I work,” explained Heras. “That's where I make my money. Friday nights were games. And weekdays, I will pick up shifts. And I have practice."

"Anyone who played football understands the gravity and the weight of the choice,” said Irondale’s head football coach Ben Fuller. “He put in four years of lifting. He is a rotater on varsity on the defensive line. And especially senior year, the sacrifice he made is life changing. And it's sad."

Sam's mom lost her health battle just a couple days ago. Now on his own, grieving again, Sam is supporting himself and he refuses to miss a shift at the Chili's restaurant in Roseville. His big brother and football coaches say they’re so proud of the man he is turning into.

"He has taken everything in stride,” said Steven Heras. “Nothing knocked him back. Some people, things happen and they think, ‘oh poor me.’ They go in a downward spiral. But Sammy keeps moving forward."

Vince Calistro, Sam’s position coach on the Irondale football team, added, "I don't think 99 percent of people, let alone a 17-year-old could handle the situation as well as Sam. I couldn't handle it. Yet he comes to school every day smiling."

Now for the first time in a long time, Sam is getting some much needed help. A co-worker shared his story on a GoFundMe page on Wednesday. It blasted across social media, generating more than $14,000 in a day. Sam compared that amount to what he might make in a full year bussing tables and washing dishes.

"I'm just really shocked it got to that much,” said an emotional Heras. “I don't know what it means. I’m very happy and shocked the whole community came around and helped me."

Sam actually gets high school credit for his restaurant job. He hopes to go into either cooking or potentially nursing someday.