MARYVILLE, Mo. - Whenever he wonders if giving that little bit of extra effort is worth it, all Tom Pestock has to do is touch the big, gold ring on the chain around his neck.

He knows his biggest fan is watching, urging him on.

The ring belonged to his father, Steve Pestock, who died on July 22, just days before the Northwest Missouri State offensive guard reported to preseason workouts at Bearcat Stadium.

"It was a month-long ordeal," the 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior said. "It was an extremely rare disease, so it was pretty difficult.

"It made me and my family very angry at what all happened."

The ailment - Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease - was so rare doctors were unable to come up with a diagnosis until a week before Steve Pestock died. It is a form of brain damage, believed to be caused by a protein, that causes a rapid decrease of mental function and movement.

That quick passing was devastating to Pestock and his supportive family, but his "other family," the brotherhood of offensive linemen and the rest of his teammates, stood ready to provide all the additional support he needed.

Fellow offensive lineman Jeremy Davis said he was shocked to hear the news from strength coach Joe Quinlan that Pestock had left campus to be by his father's bedside.

"I didn't really know what to think," Davis said. "I called Tom to talk to him a little bit on his drive down."

After the offensive guard's father passed, Davis and his wife drove down to the Kansas City area to pay their respects at the memorial service. When they arrived, they found 40 other teammates, led by the close-knit offensive linemen, had come down on a bus.

"I thought it was pretty awesome that that many guys would go and show respect for Tom," Davis said. "I guess it's a testament to how close we are.

"We have our little scuffles, just like brothers do, but when it comes down to it, we are pretty close."

"It was a rough time, but that helped," Pestock said of the support. "I had a lot of guys and a lot of family behind me, so when I got up here (for camp) I was pretty focused."

His father is gone, but Pestock knows he's not alone. He knows his friends and teammates are there physically.

Just as important, he knows his father is there for him in spirit.

"I can't slack off, because I know he's watching," said Pestock, fingering that big ring against his neck. "I used to call him at night and tell him how everything was going.

"I can't do that any more, but he already knows."

Sports reporter Rick Dunaway can be reached


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Oscar Baccarini

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