HOUMA, La. -- The Cantrelle family in Houma must learn to live without their son, T.J. He was one of the four Vandebilt High School students killed in a terrible car accident over the weekend in Houma.
Ian Haydel, Gabby Hebert, and Megan Hitt also perished in the wreck.
Telling the story of an unknown is difficult. Letting the ones that love him the most tell it sometimes is the right thing to do
'Everybody is getting to see what a special person he was. He was a good looking kid, but he was just as good looking on the inside as he was on the outside,' said T.J.'s father, Jimmy Cantrelle.
'The program has him at 140. That's giving him at least 10 pounds,' Jimmy said. 'He never ran out of bounds. He never ran around anybody. He didn't care how big you were. He was going to show you that he was going to run over you instead of around you. He played the game for the game, for the competition.'
And on this night, T.J. Cantrelle would play the game of his life, leading Vandebilt Catholic to a 34-12 victory against district rival South Lafourche.
'Best game of his career,' Jimmy said. 'His passing was right on.'
It was a game T.J. wasn't expected to play in because of an injury, but one in which he prayed all week to be a part of.
'Maybe God had a plan. Maybe God let him have his best game because it was going to be his last game,' Jimmy said.
'My rule with him was, you text me when you leave somewhere, you text me when you get where you're going,' Jimmy said. '12:57 (a.m.), the text was, 'we're in the truck.''
T.J. and three other classmates were on their way back from the LSU game.
'I fell asleep between my text of the time they head home and him sending that text, and I woke up at about I think about 4:30 (a.m.) and looked at my phone, and I had just that one text from him when they were in the truck. I tried calling him, and he didn't answer. I thought maybe he got to where he was going and fell asleep and forgot to text me. That was what I was hoping.'
Jimmy said he thought maybe T.J. got to where he was going and forgot to text him. So he went to his apartment in Houma where he and Ian Haydell were supposed to sleep for the night after the drive.
'I got to the apartment, which has a garage. Opened the garage door praying that his truck was going to be parked in there and I could go inside and fuss at him for not texting me that he got there. And I opened the door, and the truck wasn't there,' Jimmy said. 'So I knew something was wrong.'
Nearly 10 hours later, a parent's worst nightmare was realized
The truck T.J. and his friends were in was found submerged, wheels up in Bayou Blue, just minutes from his final destination. All four kids perished.
And that has left this family, and this close-knit community, devastated.
'All four kids were at the forefront of their class. They were all active and leaders, and three seniors and a sophomore,'Jimmy said. 'They were all good kids, and they're all being very much missed. They've all touched a bunch of lives.'
They are now left with a bunch of memories of four kids who had their whole lives ahead of them.
T.J., the senior quarterback, was finally playing at a level where colleges were beginning to take notice -- not just in football, but in his first love, basketball, as well.
His playing future was extremely bright, but his ultimate calling was entirely different. His prayers to play one more game were answered, and in his father's eyes, his son's life was complete.
'T.J.'s faith was so strong these last few weeks. Maybe God knew his faith would never be any stronger this, that if he took him now, he would go straight to heaven.'
And with that, this family has found a reason to smile and laugh in such a difficult time, knowing that the oldest of three boys is now looking down on them.
Thursday the family will say its final goodbyes to T.J., but Jimmy's whispered message won't be a secret, but a reminder
'I really don't have very many regrets on what I haven't said, because I tell all three of my boys every chance I get how much I love them, and how proud I am of them.'