MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The silence is what weighs the heaviest on the Hatton family.
"I still feel empty," Trenall Hatton said, remembering her late husband, Ernest. "A lot of people don't know, I've known my husband since I was nine years old. He said I would be his wife when we were nine. We were married at 30. 21 beautiful years together."
Most of those years were spent raising their son, Ethan. Like any good parents, they wanted the best for him and his budding football career as an offensive lineman. Ernest insisted that could be found at Lausanne Collegiate School.
"He was a guy that you could tell really loved and cared about his son," Lausanne head coach Kevin Locastro said. "When you sat down and visited with him, he'd ask a lot of questions. Important questions when you're turning your son over to a group of men that were probably going to spend more time with him when he's awake than you are as a parent at home."
Ethan enrolled at Lausanne ahead of his junior season. He chose to wear the number 70, the same number his father wore in high school.
"Looking back, my husband was the one to push us going to Lausanne as if he already knew what the future was," Trenall said.
On a Tuesday in November, tragedy struck.
"I actually talked to my husband at about 3:30pm. We were laughing and joking like we normally do. Thirty minutes later. Just like that," Trenall said, snapping her fingers with both hands. "He was gone."
Ernest was checking on the family's rental property when he was shot and killed. The alleged gunman is awaiting trial.
Ethan was at football practice at the time, unaware of what had unfolded.
"I went out with some teammates to eat," Ethan said. "I got home and I remember thinking, where is my dad's truck at?"
"That was probably one of the hardest things in my life," Trenall said. "To tell this 16-year-old that the man he honored and looked up to was no longer here, and the reason why he wasn't here."
"I couldn't believe it. It didn't seem real," Ethan said. "I didn't want to believe it."
After a sleepless night, Ethan chose to go to school and to practice that next day.
"I just let him know how much we loved him, how much we were going to support him through the rest of his high school career," Locastro said. "But right now, you've got to take care of yourself, take care of your mom, and if that means you're done with football for the rest of the season so be it."
"I was like 'I can't. I can't stop,'" Ethan replied. "This is what keeps me going. With football, I was able to take out my aggression. Take out all the emotions I had in me. I needed football."
Ethan played that Friday in the Lynx state semifinal loss to Christ Presbyterian Academy.
"One, I couldn't let my team down," he said. "I knew that I was a piece of that team. I knew my dad would want me to play."
That mentality fueled him on the field and in the weight room. Ethan lost 30 pounds and lost himself in football. He committed to the Div. I Southeast Missouri State in October.
"As soon as I pressed send on Twitter, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders," he said.
"I don't think at that age, I would have the strength to continue to come to practice and play and be around my teammates," Locastro said. "He's an inspiration to us as coaches and to our parents and to the entire Lausanne family."
Despite being relatively new to the school, the Lynx community rallied around Ethan and Trenall. On Senior Night, his teammates and coaches stood in his father's place, walking his mom to midfield.
"I was like 'I'm going to hold it together; I'm going to hold it in,'" Ethan said. "But then when I saw my teammates walking my mom out, I couldn't hold it no more."
"I don't there was a dry eye in the place," Chris Jordan said, Lausanne's defensive coordinator and Ethan's cousin. During the ceremony, he stood next to Trenall, holding a large picture of Ernest. "It meant a lot to him, and it helped him. He was hurting and he struggled that day. But that night he felt loved and supported."
It's that love that has helped the Hattons rise above the feelings of anger and emptiness—even when it's quiet.
"The very next day, he got up. He said 'Mom, we may never understand hate. Because we don't hate,'" Trenall said. "And that's how we operate in our household."
"I feel like as people we have to realize is that hate—hate is what caused this whole situation," Ethan said. "What is hating—it's not solving anything. All it is doing is putting me down. I can't live my life hating someone. Of course, it's a terrible thing to happen. But if you continue to hate someone and you don't forget them, it just weighs you down and it's just a burden on your life."
Ernest never got to see his son receive a college offer. But Ethan said he knows he's looking down on him and he's proud.
"We set that example to not let the negativity weigh us down in spirit," Trenall said. "We're already dealing with grief, why deal with the extra stuff when we don't have to."