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Colts rookie John Boyett still inspired by late sister’s spirit in the face of death

Danielle Boyett always gave the same advice to football brothers John and Charles.

“Hit ’em hard,” the older sister liked to say, not that the tough-minded safeties needed any reminder of her fighting spirit.

If they didn’t achieve up to her expectations, she let them know it. Postgame greetings outside the locker room began with either a thumbs up or a “boo.”

And Danielle was blind.

The brothers’ biggest fan had to attend games in a wheelchair and arrived at her assessments based on comments from parents Cindy and Dan, as well as on radio broadcasts.

The siblings always spoke before games on the phone. Danielle was their inspiration — and still is. She died Feb. 22, 2011 after a constant fight to live that began with a brain tumor at the age of 12.

The brothers are strengthened by the spirit of their 25-year old sister, John as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts and Charles as a junior at the University of California-Davis. They wear a silver chain with a medallion that has Danielle’s fingerprint on one side, her name and dates on the other.

“I think about her every day,” said John, 23, during a break from May’s rookie mini-camp. “It’s still tough for me.

“The necklace reminds me that I play the game for a greater cause. Yes, I personally want to be successful and help my team win. But me wanting to make my family and sister proud means the most.”

Charles, 21, added: “I always catch myself reaching down and grabbing it.In tough times, I feel it. I think about what she had to go through.”

The brothers don’t like talking extensively about their loss, but they honor Danielle by sharing her story. She survived that first surgery for the brain tumor, then so many more times when the situation was bleak. She ended up in that wheelchair. Then she lost her sight.

Yet she stayed in touch with her brothers. And she could be relentless. John came out of class one time to three cell phone messages. Another oft-uttered Danielle-ism was, “Don’t be stupid.”

Before her life deviated into an emotional rollercoaster with a seemingly endless series of operations and treatments that wore her body down, Danielle excelled in gymnastics, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball and was a straight-A student in Napa, Calif.

“She was the best athlete in her grade, not only her grade but multiple grades,” John said.

“She was probably the best athlete of the family,” Cindy said.

Competitiveness, like athleticism, runs deep with Boyetts.

“If you talk to any of us, I would say I’m the best, John would say he is the best and Danielle would have said she was the best,” Charles said. “You have to be confident in what you do.”

John let his parents know what fascinated him at an early age. The son of a small-college and high school football coach, he was 2 when he started watching game tape.

“He didn’t care about cartoons,” Cindy said. “I’d put in one of those eight-track tapes and John would sit and watch football. That would occupy him.”

As he grew older, father and son would break down film together.

“It’s been a pleasure as a coach breaking down film with him,” Dan said.

Where the father once taught the son, it’s now sometimes the other way around. Football experience combined with Danielle’s reminder of toughness molded the brothers.

“I wasn’t one to raise whiny kids anyway,” Cindy said. “Seeing what Danielle went through, they have nothing to complain about.”

That explains how John could play his junior season for the Oregon Ducks with partial tears in the patellar tendons of both knees.

“I can’t imagine the kind of pain he was in,” Cindy said.

The 5-10, 203-pound safety was the Ducks’ top tackler in two of his three full seasons — the first freshman in the modern era to do so. He had a career-high 17 tackles in the 2010 Rose Bowl. His college career ended one game into his final season. He needed surgery to repair both knees and is currently rehabbing.

Despite the injuries, the Colts took a chance on John, impressed by their chat at the NFL Scouting Combine, and selected him the sixth round.

“We’ve got to protect John Boyett against himself because part of the deal, he loves to play, he loves the game,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said after the draft. “He’ll play hurt, so he was his own worst enemy.

“The arrow is moving in the right direction. So by the time he comes in here and we go through the offseason program and we head into training camp, I feel really confident that he’s going to be in a good place and ready to compete.”

Charles is confident John will recover from his surgeries and make it in the NFL. The brothers “talk about everything” each day or so. They inspire each other, as Danielle once did.

And still does.

“Watching Danielle go through what she did made them very compassionate,” Cindy said. “Knowing what they have, I don’t think they have ever taken that for granted. It’s made them very close.”

John added: “Every game I know my sister is watching down on me, cheering me on.This really motivates me to go out there and lay it all on the line to make her proud.”

http://www.indystar.com/article/20130628/SPORTS03/306280070/Colts-rookie-John-Boyett-still-inspired-by-late-sister-s-spirit-face-death?gcheck=1