Painted rocks and candlelight vigil held last Tuesday night honored the life of Dylan Ridolfi, an Oak Ridge High School student who died in a sledding accident on Sunday, Feb. 17.
Friends and family gathered to reminisce and celebrate the 15-year-old known for his love of family and football. Dylan was on Oak Ridge’s undefeated freshman football team.
Dan Ridolfi described his son as “a huge teddy bear,” who aspired to continued his football career at Dad’s alma mater, the University of Nevada, Reno, while studying engineering. “He was not just a builder of people, but a builder of things,” Dan said. Dylan was in the process of creating a crane out of K’nex on his ceiling. He had made a series of drawings to make it 3-D. His parents had given him money and he was “trying to figure out, in his budget, how to do it.”
Dan remembers his son as carving his own path. “Dylan was a young man who didn’t judge. He didn’t give a lot of thought to what other people thought of him. He just did what he was going to do,” he said.
Dylan often tried to leave for school in the morning without taking a shower — which his parents gave him a hard time for — not caring what his hair looked like, having thrown together an outfit “he thought was cool,” his father said. For spirit days at the high school, he would color his hair — one of the many things that made Dylan stand out to classmates, teammates and coaches.
“Dylan was a big, quiet, tough kid who really loved football and really cared about his teammates,” said Bill Bunce, an Oak Ridge freshman football coach. “He could be funny in a sort of goofy way, and when he played a joke on a friend or teammate it often had something to do with his strength and size. He was the strongest player on the team, easily, through natural brute force.”
Dylan suffered a partially torn knee ligament before the season began, Bunce said, but the young player soldiered through the pain.
“I feel like Dylan was one of those people who is just naturally happy,” Bunce said. “He never got mad, and he never seemed discouraged about anything. There was never any drama whatsoever with Dylan. He was just a big, happy, easy going, low key, friendly person. He was not vocal at all, but he was reliable.”
While Dylan was shy, Bunce said, he would always greet the coach and would often be found hanging out with his teammates, all of whom were very close. “Dylan was simply a great teammate and a great young man,” Bunce continued. “He was an outstanding football player with enormous potential, but more importantly, he was kind, hard-working, happy and reliable. His teammates and his coaches cared deeply for him and loved him.”
Matt Flynn, an offensive coach with the team for more than a decade, nicknamed Dylan “Big Country.”
“Dylan was just a great kid. His teammates loved him dearly. He always had a smile on his face — rain or shine. He was a big kid but a gentle giant,” Flynn said. “However, once he put the pads on he became a football player. He was also the most spirited kid on the team with his giant Oak Ridge blue mohawk.”
This was Dylan’s second year playing football, Flynn said, and he had hopes the player would switch from defense to offense. “At the beginning of the year he told me all he can play is defense. When I asked why he said because last year he could not remember the offensive plays,” the coach recalled. “I told him with his size, his hands and natural footwork that he is a true offensive tackle and that if he wanted on the field this year that is where it would be. He did not take to that very well.”
A week later, Dylan told Flynn he was ready to play offense. “It made me smile because I knew I had a gem to work with. It did not take him long to learn our formations and plays and soon he became my starting strong tackle,” Flynn proudly added.”He was a run blocking machine and was a major reason why this team was so successful.”
The offensive coach saw great potential in Dylan, believing that the player could be the next Division 1 college player to come from the El Dorado Hills high school. The week prior to Dylan’s death, Flynn recommended him to the varsity coach for the next season. “I was so looking forward to watching him on the field for the next three years,” Flynn said. “He will be sadly missed, but his big heart and infectious smile will never be forgotten.”
On Feb. 17, Dylan went sledding with his family at Sheep’s Flat, about a mile away from the Mt. Rose summit near Route 341 in Washoe County. During a run down the hill witnesses said he had been going at a “high rate of speed” before hitting two trees, according to Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Armando Avina.
Deputies were dispatched at 3:34 p.m., with medical units, fire engines and a Care Flight helicopter ambulance also responding. Dylan was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:10 p.m.
This was the first sledding fatality Avina remembers deputies responding to and, he said, especially “due to the age and severity” of what happened, “Our hearts go out to the family.”
A memorial service for Dylan is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, at Rolling Hills Christian Church, 800 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills. Memorial donations may be made to the Oak Ridge High School Community Foundation, Dylan Ridolfi Memorial Football Fund, at orhsfoundation.com.