MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnetonka boys lacrosse team is unbeaten and ranked number one in the state.

“They got just a little bit of everything. They got the right amount of fight, they’ve the right amount of brains, they have the right amount of veteran savvy, youth inexperience, the right amount of success at the youth levels,” said Coach Aaron Olivier.

And that’s saying something, because less than a year ago they lost a teammate and a friend. In a bizarre incident, Archer Amorosi lost his life in a confrontation with police.

Archer Amorosi (credit: CBS)

“Archer was by far one of the best kids I’ve known. He was the most, just passionate kid with whatever it was,” said teammate Andrew DiFrancesco. “He was so fun to be around, he had so much high energy, he was so loving, caring.”

He was a two-sport, high-end athlete who was a favorite of his teammates and sisters — and yet he dealt with a form of mental illness.

“On the field, off the field he was a brother to them. And the coaching staff … had coached him all through the youth ranks, so they’ve known him for a long time,” Aaron said.

A two-sport, high-end athlete, a favorite of his teammates and sisters, and yet dealing with a form of mental illness.

“Depression and anxiety, and not really recognizing that it’s an illness, it’s just them,” said Don Amorosi, Archer’s father. “I remember at one time [Archer] said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Dad.’”

So they play on for Archer, never far from him, connected as teammates.

“Yeah, we want to win state, but we kind of want to honor him and keep playing for him,” Andrew said. “On the back of our helmets we have the ‘A25’ sticker, so he’s always with us, and we know he’s … looking down on us and he’s kind of with us during the season.”

What they have learned is that even those that have much can have pain.

“You don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable because, like Archer, he’s a winner. He’s always been a winner. And that’s the expectation that he’s set, at least in his head, and so it’s very difficult to be vulnerable,” Don said.

A few months after that, their head coach was teaching a class when, in an instant, his life changed forever.

Aaron Olivier (credit: CBS)

“You have 20/20 vision, absolutely no problem whatsoever. You blink once, and something changes. A little bit of yellow. You blink again and you have stars. You blink again and all of a sudden things turn a little bit black,” Aaron said.

When Aaron and his wife Laura got to Mayo Clinic, they got the news: He had eye cancer.

“And then you hear what it really is and you just, it’s almost like you’re in shock,” Laura said.

And so his team and he bonded again. Before surgery, they surprised him.

“They just came in and a whole group gave me a big, old group hug, and said, ‘We wish you well,’ and, you know, ‘Love ya,’” Aaron said. “It’s hard for kids to say ‘love ya,’ but they meant it, and you know, it’s mutual. I mean, these guys are really special.”

He wears a patch, but he’s back coaching his team.

“He loves these boys, he loves this sport,” Laura said. “I think it’s really good for him to have, you know, focus.”

And they are there for their coach, in part because of how he has handled it.

“You couldn’t have had a guy with a better attitude, though,” Andrew said. “That was kind of what kept the team a little more calm.”

And Archer’s parents are there, too, watching the team their son used to play on, and feeling that he is still on that team. There is therapy here.

“When I sit among them, I feel like I’m sitting among them, and they’re like me,” Don said. “It’s very comforting for me, actually.”

And somehow, this team and this season is part of a much bigger mission. They are playing for their never-forgotten teammate.

“He’s with us,” Aaron said. “It’s something where we have to be really aware of that. That the coaches are still tremendously affected by it. He was a special guy.”

And they have all learned, more than they can probably comprehend, that this game is just a game.

(credit: CBS)

“Life is precious, so precious,” Laura said. “I feel like we are just grateful for everything in our day-to-day lives, and just really enjoy everything so much more.”

And maybe there is something to be learned from the worst of times.

“Having that bounce-back attitude, it does speak to what they’ve been able to do,” Aaron said. “And hopefully they’re learning something from this, even though it’s not been fun.”

And this team is doing more than it knows, for more than they may realize.

“There were some of the players there on the day of the tragedy, right there at the end of the driveway. There were others that carried his casket. They were all at his funeral, and they all looked to me and give me support, every single game. And it means everything to me,” Don said.

Mike Max