Jefferson player's mentors keep promise to late father

It was his Aunt Cora and she spoke to his mom.

“She said to take me to the hospital right away if I wanted to be able to say something to my dad,” Cody Latimer said with quiet, still painful recollection. “He didn’t have much longer to live.”

His dad — Colby Latimer — a much-trumpeted Dunbar High athlete in the mid-1980s and then a football standout at Bowling Green State University — had been holding his own in an eight-month battle with colon cancer. Then, suddenly, his organs began shutting down.

Tonya Dunson — who had raised and nurtured her son after she and Colby had split up when their boy was small — got Cody to the hospital just in time that April day in 2005.

“It was a horrible feeling walking in that room,” said Cody, who was 12 at the time. “Dad was real weak. He had all kinds of tubes in him and his eyes were yellow, but he was able to talk a little bit. He told me how much he loved me and how he wanted me to stay strong.

“The next day he was out of it and then ... he just died. It really hit me. I got so down, so depressed. I felt all alone ... like I’d lost everything in the world.”

While the loss was devastating, he hadn’t lost everything. He had family and friends and he especially had his dad’s two best pals — Kyle Kramer and Ron Todd.

Both noted Dayton prep athletes themselves who went on to Bowling Green, too, they hadn’t just become Colby’s Falcon teammates. The three became an inseparable trio whose lives remained intertwined decades after college.

And that’s why — in his final days — Colby called on each of them, Todd said:

“He told us, ‘Promise me you guys will look after Cody. Make sure he goes to school, gets his grades, stays on the straight and has what he needs.’ ”

And now the two men are doing just that. They’re providing Cody — a star athlete at Jefferson High — what he needs by giving him what they once had with his dad.

That’s why this story of loss has become one of so much love.

Kyle Kramer hasn’t forgotten the August day in 1985 when the three met in the parking lot of UD Arena to begin their college journey.

He had been a standout at Fairmont High. Todd was a massive offensive lineman from Belmont and Colby was a 6 foot-2, 235-pound All-City football and basketball player for Dunbar.

They piled into Kramer’s silver Mercury Lynx for the ride up Interstate 75.

“Colby and I were in the front and Ron filled up the whole back seat,” Kramer said with a laugh. “I remember when we got up there that first night, we pulled all our beds into one room to sleep.

“We were all a little nervous about what lay ahead. We didn’t quite know what we were getting into. It was a time when we all needed a little something and we found it in each other.”

That first year they were part of a Falcons team that went 11-0 before losing in the California Bowl. Coach Moe Ankney used Colby as an outside linebacker, middle linebacker and nose guard, although Kramer said he ran as fast as the guys in the secondary.

“You could put him anywhere,” said Kramer, who went on to play defensive back for the Cleveland Browns. “Colby was the best athlete I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen some amazing ones along the way.”

Off the field, he said the three became especially close: “No two guys have ever been closer to me than them. We became best friends. Over the years we went through a lot in each other’s lives and Colby always was the great cohesive force. He’d call every day just to see how we were doing and pep us up.”

After his Browns career was cut short by injury, Kramer ran some fitness gyms in the Dayton area and now — living in Bellbrook with a wife and two young daughters — he sells Zimmer total joint replacements and assists in operating rooms as they are installed.

Todd — who is a sports agent, managerial consultant and sells insurance — still has a Dayton office, but now lives in Cincinnati.

At 42, he got married last November. Beforehand, he and Janice, his wife-to-be, decided that — along with Kramer and some other old teammates — Cody should be in their wedding party.

Filling in for his dad and lining up next to those former football guys, Cody had to laugh when he saw all that beef packed in those tuxedos: “We looked like a bunch of security guards.”

But when the others looked at him, they simply saw his dad.

“He looks just like him, jumps like him and he certainly has his dad’s athletic talent,” Todd said.

Now 17, Cody is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior with a 3.1 grade-point average. He takes honors courses and sports an athletic resume that is one of the most impressive in the area.

Not only did he have the third-most receiving yards in the area last football season (911 yards on 48 catches), he also played quarterback, linebacker, defensive back, returned kicks and punts and now is being heavily recruited by Michigan, Louisville and several other schools.

Before suffering an injury last month that’s forced him to miss nine games, Cody — who Broncos basketball coach Art Winston called his “team leader” — was averaging close to 16 points and nine rebounds a game and has drawn hoops interest from Akron, Detroit and Wright State.

“Cody’s going to have a lot of opportunities soon,” Kramer said. “He’s an amazing athlete and an amazing kid. He’s doing a lot of things right.”

Cody said he and Todd — who is his godfather — speak almost daily on the phone. He and the often-traveling Kramer text-message regularly and both men occasionally stop by to catch one of his games or take him to lunch.

“I tell Cody, ‘Look, I’m not trying to be your best friend or your buddy,’ ” Todd said. “ ‘You got kids your own age for that. I was your dad’s friend and I’m here to tell you things you might not want to hear. Kyle and I are here to help you make the right decisions and become a man.’ ”

While he said he, his fellow hoops coaches and the Jefferson football staff also take special interest in Cody, Winston praised the influence Kramer and Todd provide:

“They give him fatherly advice. They step in academically and athletically to make sure he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. Most of all, they’re always there for him.”

That was even the case with a frightening incident during a game with Meadowdale at the Jefferson gym Jan. 9.

Coming down the lane, Cody went up for a dunk just as a shifting Meadowdale defender stumbled and ended up under-cutting his legs when he was at the peak of his leap.

Upended, Cody crashed to the court, landing on his shoulder, the base of his neck and the back of his head. He was knocked out cold. The impact was so violent that his body jack-knifed and his left foot was driven forcefully into the floor, breaking his middle toe.

“People feared he’d broken his neck and the gym went silent,” Winston said. “Everyone was panic stricken.

“Seeing him crumpled there motionless, I got real emotional. I have a 21-year-old nephew who is paralyzed from the neck down from a rugby accident and I started thinking all those thoughts.”

As Cody was lying there, Todd received a frantic call from courtside. Instantly, he called Kramer.

“I don’t remember any of it,” Cody said. “Nothing until I was in the ambulance going to Miami Valley. I was kind of fading in and out and I remember seeing Mom and asking, ‘Is this real?’ ”

Although he suffered a concussion, he was released from the hospital late that night and by the next day both Todd and Kramer were there for him.

“My neck still is a little sore and I’ll have to tape my toes together, but I think I can get back playing just before we get to tournament,” Cody said as he sat on the sideline during Jefferson’s practice the other night. “I don’t want to come back too early, so I re-injure everything right away.

“When I go out on the court, I want to be the best I can be for my team ... and for my dad ... and for Ron and Kyle, too.

“They kept that promise and now I’m gonna live up to it.”