Nearly all his life, Jeremy Russin had followed his brother Chris, just two years older -- through recreation leagues, Cub Scouts, neighborhoods and schools.
Suddenly, from his bed at Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for acute myelocytic leukemia, it was Chris trying to follow Jeremy as he played lacrosse for South Carroll.
Before each game, "His brother would call him on the phone and say, 'Get a goal for me,' " said their mother, Mary Russin. "And Jeremy would always produce that goal. He'd get home after the game, and the first thing Jeremy would do is call and say, "I got that goal for you.' "
Jeremy had started the season slowly, missing conditioning work because of a broken big toe suffered during wrestling season. By the seventh game he had worked himself into the starting lineup and finished with eight regular-season goals. And Chris, who entered the hospital on April 5, watched videotapes of the games from his bed.
The leukemia was in remission, but chemotherapy had wreaked havoc with Chris' immune system. On May 5, a fungal infection in his lungs was diagnosed, and double pneumonia. Chris, 19, lacked the white blood cells to fight with, and began declining steadily.
Four days later, the day before the Cavaliers were to meet Catonsville in a Class 3A-4A quarterfinal, Jeremy was called from school to the hospital. Chris was close to death and the doctors, who had done all they could medically, weren't certain of his survival.
"A couple of times they said it was up to him," Jeremy said. "How hard he could fight." Chris had been administered a paralyzing drug, enabling him to accept the drainage tubes running into his lungs. He was in a coma-like state, but doctors said his mind was functioning and he could hear.
This time, Chris couldn't ask for a goal. And no one will know, until he is able to respond, if he heard Jeremy's offer.
"I told him I was going to score a goal for him," Jeremy said. Then he left the hospital and returned to school in time for practice.
"It gave us an emotional lift," said South Carroll coach Gene Brown, who was as surprised as the team to see the junior attackman ready to play. "He said, 'I want to practice, I really want to practice.' I think he needed it."
The next night against Catonsville, Russin scored his goal. Then another and another. And still more. When it was over, Jeremy had five goals and South Carroll had a 6-5 playoff victory.
"The first thing we did as a team, even before we shook hands with Catonsville, was have a moment of silence for his brother," Brown said. "Then I joked, 'If Jeremy Russin had had a good game we'd have won a lot easier.' Everyone laughed."
Russin had gotten open in front of the net and his teammates had found him there. "The passes he got were nice passes," said Brown, "but he had to finish them. He's a finisher."
"Everything went pretty good," Russin said. "I didn't make a lot of mistakes. We've got a great team."
Russin's achievement made him Evening Sun Athlete of the Week and a similar honor was bestowed by a Westminster radio station. That recognition provided the family with a much-needed boost. "To know he's able to perform . . .," Mary Russin said. "In my mind, and he doesn't say it, it's in the back of his mind that he's doing it for Chris. It's meant an incredible amount. It helps us get through all this. Even the nurses were excited."
Chris' illness has caused Mary, a medical receptionist, and her husband Randy, a detective lieutenant with the Baltimore County Police Department, to spend their days and nights until 10:30 p.m. in a vigil at the hospital. Jeremy, 17, and his sister Amy, 21, have had to fend for themselves. At the lacrosse team banquet Monday, parents bringing dishes brought extra ones for Jeremy and Amy.
"The recognition is an emotional lift for him," Randy Russin said. "And, knowing that, it makes us feel less guilty that we haven't spent much time with him lately."
But that's nothing.
On Wednesday, the day after South Carroll was eliminated by Dulaney, 9-3, despite another Russin goal, the family got another boost.
"The doctor said Chris' white blood cells were coming back to fight the infection," Jeremy said.
Chris is still in critical condition but, like Jeremy, he's fighting. "I'm amazed, sitting here day after day, that my son who's sick has battled so much," Randy Russin said. "The doctors and nurses have commented on it. All our kids are that way."