CLARKSBURG – High school student Jacob Dennis could have chosen a brand-new car, but instead he wanted a truck the same make and model that his father drove at 18 years old.
The two of them restored the 1989 Ford truck, painted it black and added a Maryland flag to the tailgate.
On June 8, Dennis and teammates Patrick Shifflett and Cary Greene, also juniors, were in the flag-emblazoned, black truck driving in Damascus when it hit a tree.
At the school Saturday, more than 100 people attended the Jacob Dennis Foundation Car Show. Proceeds would go to the foundation, which will award $2,500 scholarships to three seniors this year, mother Trina Dennis said.
Friends said the car show was something Dennis would have liked.
"He would have been the first one here," said a friend, Clarksburg senior Ian Krishnan, age 18.
Trina Dennis said he used to attend car shows in the D.C. area, such as the Jimmy Cone Car Show.
She said her son would wash his truck every day.
Teammate Tye McCrary, 17, confirmed he frequently washed the truck and said Jacob sometimes would borrow his dad's truck, but he would wash that one before going out, too.
Dennis called the truck “Big Black.”
Teammates and friends said black trucks remind them of Jacob.
“It has to be Ford,” said Jacob’s friend Chris Calkins, a senior.
“If it’s not Ford, it’s not Jacob,” another friend, Nick Petrakes, said.
“Turbo,” Jacob would say, when driving his truck, according to McCrary.
Petrakes said Dennis later helped him with his own vehicle.
"Jacob was a big influence on me buying my truck," said Petrakes, also 18. "We worked together on it and stuff."
His father, Charlie Dennis, said Jacob was always interested in cars and trucks.
"He's a lot like his father. I can assure you on that," Charlie Dennis said Saturday.
Dennis said his son did some things to be like him.
“When we bought that truck, it was gray,” he said.
“‘Dad, I want one that’s exactly like yours,’” Dennis remembered him saying.
Jacob took an interest in his dad's gravel dump truck business, which he started in 1994. Charlie said he had intended to train Jacob in the business after graduation for three years, and then pass the company on to him.
"Now I don't know what I'm going to do."
He described their relationship as close.
"We were so close. We had so much going on, and at his time of death, I don't think a father and son could get any closer than we were.”
He removed his sunglasses to wipe a tear from his right eye and then put them back on.
"You know doing stuff like this, keeping his memory alive keeps me going, so that's why I do it," Dennis said.
One way students remembered him was that he was loud, especially during football games. Dennis was a member of the football team.
"Jacob and I got a sack,” McCrary said, "He was screaming because he was so excited."
Sometimes referees told Dennis to “tone down” his excitement, according to McCrary.
McCrary said Dennis’ death inspired him to self-improve.
"I still think about him every day,” McCrary said. “It makes me stronger.”
"Because of him I take more risks,” he added. “He was just a get-up-and-go kind of guy."
Another friend, Paul Clark, said he wants the memory of Jacob to continue to exist.
"We want him remembered for the good things," Paul said.
Jacob’s father, Charlie Dennis, wore a hat with the Ford logo to the event. But it wasn’t just any hat.
“This is his hat; Paul (Clark) got it for me,” Dennis said. “It was in the truck that morning, it was in the truck... when it happened.”
Dennis said talking about his son makes him emotional, but he doesn’t mind.
“Anytime I talk about my son, it doesn’t take much for me to cry,” Dennis said.
Police pronounced Dennis and Shifflett dead at the scene June 8; Greene died in a hospital June 9.
In addition to Dennis, Shifflett and Greene, the Coyotes had lost a fourth football team member, junior John DeReggi, the previous September when a train hit and killed him.
Krishnan and several of Dennis’ friends at the car show said they dedicated their senior seasons to the four teammates they lost. Krishnan said he was struck by the fallen players’ absence from the team, especially in the fall.
“We weren’t that good without them,” Krishnan said.