PROFILE: After losing both parents, Cedric Tooson keeps their legacy alive through football
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
A year and two weeks after losing his mother to cancer, Cedric Tooson woke up on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, a little later than usual.
His first thought after rolling out of bed, throwing on his clothes as quick as possible and hustling to get ready was how upset his dad was going to be that he was running late to football practice.
Instead, his dad was calm and asked Cedric to come over and give him a hug, which confused him, making Cedric think his dad must have misheard him when he said he was late to practice.
Cedric’s father then continued his calm demeanor telling his son to give him a hug before saying “act like you love me.” Both laughed at that crazy statement because they couldn’t have loved each other more, and then, after sharing that laugh, they embraced in each other’s arms before heading off to practice.
Cedric didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time he ever hugged his father.
The losses of a lifetime
Just a year and two weeks earlier on Oct. 23, 2014, Cedric lost his mother Tionne Tooson to cancer. It was something that was a heartbreaking shock to not just Cedric, but his dad Steven Tooson as well as his older brother and two younger sisters.
The reason for the sudden shock and awe of the situation was the disease hadn’t been prevalent at all. So little so that the family didn’t find out until the day she passed away that she even had cancer.
“She talked to my dad and just told him early that day that he needed to be prepared to take care of us by hisself,” Cedric said. “Then that night, I remember her asking me something. She asked me for a piece of candy or something and that’s the last thing I really remember before she passed away. It’s something that makes me smile every time I think about it.”
It was a tough loss for Cedric for many reasons, but it’s something that has helped push his high school football career with a burning passion because she was such a big support system that believed he could go as far as he wanted to.
“Right before she passed, we had a conversation,” Cedric said. “We just talked about how I could make it in football. She just felt like I could do whatever I wanted to, so when I feel like I can’t push anymore, I just think about her.”
It was a difficult loss for the entire family, but caused Steven to have to take over the responsibility of all four kids by himself.
Over the next year, Steven did just about everything he could to make sure to make life was as comfortable for his kids as possible, trying to do extra work to earn money, which Cedric said set a good example for himself as he learned how to be the man of the house.
Later that night Veterans Day night on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, after Cedric had run late for practice and gone through his day at school, another tragedy struck the family.
As Steven left church that night, he came to a four-way stop at the intersection of 11th Court North and Center Street when a police officer came flying over the hill between 60 and 90 miles per hour.
The officer was responding to a domestic violence call when his car collided with Steven’s car where he and his passenger became trapped inside.
“The person he was with said all she could feel after they were hit was my dad trying to cover her up,” Cedric said. “Once he tried to cover her up, he was unprotected not wearing his seatbelt. She said after the crash all she knew was she was on top of him and he started coughing up blood.”
Steven Tooson was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, while the female passenger and officer ended up being okay.
Cedric still went to school that next day because he still wanted to play football for Gardendale in the team’s playoff game that Friday night saying, that’s what his parents would have wanted. He said it didn’t really hit him until the funeral that next week.
“It was really hard to process,” Cedric said. “I saw how he kept pushing and fighting for me, my brother and my sisters after my mom passed, so I felt like ‘I’m the man of the house now and I have to set the right example.’”
With his dad being his biggest role model and his mom believing in his talent, hard work and dedication to the game of football, Cedric knew it was only right to use the game that he had been playing since the age of five as a way to honor his parents.
“Football taught me so much about life and I wouldn’t have gotten into it without my dad’s influence,” Cedric said. “It’s always been something I’ve loved to do ever since my dad showed interest into it.
“He’s my role model and I want to be just like him, plus he put in so much time to the game for me so it’s only right for me to keep the dream alive.”
Cedric and his siblings moved in with his grandparents after losing both parents in the timespan of a year and while he still felt he needed to be the man of the house, Cedric was glad to be around the love and support of his grandparents Pinkney “Buddy” Tooson Jr. and Jannette Tooson.
“They’ve pretty much took on the role of being our parents,” Cedric said. “Without them and my uncle, I really don’t know where our family would be right now.
“Most people after a scenario like the one we went through; their whole family would split up. I’m so lucky to still be with my family because we my grandparents and uncle made sure me, my brother and sisters stayed together.”
Cedric said he learned so much in watching his father handle the household without his mother, and felt as if he had to grow up faster than most teenagers; but said his grandparent’s life experience has been a major support system.
“There are a lot of things that I don’t know yet,” Cedric said. “Me and my older brother have only been through 17 and 19 years of life. My grandparents are 77 and 73, so they have so much more experience.
“It would be really hard for me and my brother to have to teach two girls how to grow up,” Cedric said with a chuckle.
The transition of moving in with their grandparents meant a move from Gardendale to the Hoover area where Cedric joined the Spain Park Jaguars football program heading into his sophomore year of high school.
“He’s just such a special person,” Spain Park head coach Shawn Raney said. “His story is an unbelievable one and one that deserves to be heard and told. It shows the character he has and the obstacles he has had to overcome.”
Raney and others at the school helped Cedric feel right at home immediately.
“Spain Park took me in with open arms and it’s really a brotherhood here,” Cedric said. “I feel like a part of an actual family. All of the coaches and players are here for me and have my back if I ever need anything.”
A lineman on the Jaguars’ defensive unit, Cedric has been impacted by several mentors since the passing of his parents such as former linemen Damon Wright and Douglas Henze as well as his grandparents and uncle, Pinkney Tooson II—brother of Steven.
But there is one guy, that Cedric referred to as much more than a mentor, but more like a father figure—his defensive line coach Jason Hamlin.
“When I first got here coach Hamlin came up to me and said ‘I hope you’re ready to come home,’” Cedric said. “I was confused at first, but then he said ‘eventually, you’re going to be with me on the defensive line.’”
A few weeks later Raney came up to him and asked how he felt about playing defensive end. As a linebacker at Gardendale, that’s where Cedric wanted to play, but he knew he had to do what’s best for the team, which kick started his tight-knit relationship with Hamlin.
“To be honest, he’s just really like my dad,” Cedric said praising his position coach. “I feel like he’s exactly like my dad. I know I can talk to him about anything and he’ll always help me if I need it. He’s my dad now, pretty much.”
Hamlin said his uncle, brought him to practice during the summer of 2016 before his sophomore season and took one day of summer workouts before Hamlin and Raney realized they had something special.
“He’s an outstanding young man,” Hamlin said. “He’s the rare one. Every kid in his situation would have a reason to be done with everything. He doesn’t use that as a crutch, which is just amazing.”
Cedric, now a junior at Spain Park, and Hamlin have formed a close relationship on the football, but as his math teacher and a friend, they’ve become much more than just coach and player.
“He’ll call me or text me whenever he has something on his mind,” Hamlin said. “He’s also in my study hall every day. Sometime for help with math and other times to just hangout and talk football.”
While Hamlin said he coaches because he loves the game and helping kids, but just never imagined a player seeing him as a father figure.
“I’m speechless,” Hamlin said choking up. “If he sees me as a father figure then I guess I’m doing a decent job. I’ll break my back to help him or anybody on the team so they can have the opportunity to get what they deserve. I could probably do more, but I’ll always be there to help him out.”
With the past set, Cedric is focused on the future saying he knows God has done everything for a reason and he still has something special planned for the rest of his life.
His goals are lofty, but Cedric hopes to one day play football for the Alabama Crimson Tide and couldn’t dream of anything better than playing professionally for the Pittsburg Steelers.
“I always want to be around the best competition,” Cedric said. “You should have to grind and compete for your spot because if you’re not, you’re not going to get any better. You might be a five star in high school, but once you go to a place like Alabama, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. I feel like that would be such a humbling experience.”
Cedric said he’ll always go back to one of those last moments with his mom where they shared a conversation about her belief in Cedric doing whatever he puts his mind to.
Though she is gone, Cedric said she is still with him, pushing him to be his greatest every day and she will never leave as a part of her heart will always be with him.
His dad, who gave up so much to support Cedric’s passion for football and to support the family as a single father, also left part of his heart with Cedric.
Every time he steps foot onto the 120X40-yard football field, Cedric has three hearts beating inside of him and giving him a burning desire to please all.
“A lot of people in this world don’t get to meet their parents at all,” Cedric said. “I got the blessing of mine for 14 and 15 years of my life. Who am I to complain about it when there are a lot that don’t get that privilege.”