It is not easy being a diehard Notre Dame fan in the middle of Tennessee Vol’s Country. You get the usual “Catholic school boys” jokes, and of course some folks from this area simply do not like any school from the north.

Tyler Meek of Hickory Corner knows all about it. Since childhood he has watched the Irish take the field in football while playing at the knee of his father Anthony Meek. “I liked the gold helmets,” said Tyler about his early fascination with the Fighting Irish.

“All my friends are Tennessee fans. Whenever they are playing on TV and my friends are watching the Vols, I just go in the other room and watch Notre Dame,” Tyler noted.

Meeks’ father Anthony earned his ND letters honestly as well. Anthony first watched Notre Dame playing college ball on a black and white television at the age of 8. He was hooked, and when his son Tyler came along, the passion and fascination with Knute Rockne’s boys was passed on the son. Son and father connected through Notre Dame football, and from the time Tyler could barely talk, Irish football created a bond between the two.

However, that all came a tearful end last June 1. After years of health problems, Anthony Meek passed away at the age of 42. His sudden departure left obvious canyons of emptiness in the hearts of Tyler and his mother Jennifer

Anthony Meek had had health problems since childhood, but never let them become a handicap. As the frailties worsened some urged Anthony to file for a disability check, but he refused, preferring instead to “wear out rather than rust out” an already failing body.

News of Anthony Meek’s untimely death came when Tyler was away in Kentucky on a trip with Old Friendship Baptist youth group. Obviously the news hit him hard.

Now, however, he has even more reason to remember his dad through their connection to Notre Dame University. Knowing their affection for the Irish, a family friend contacted Irish Head Football Coach Brian Kelly through his foundation. Then last week came an autographed photo of Kelley and a letter of support for Tyler Meek.

The letter read: “At such a difficult time, no words can lessen the impact of such a loss, but please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. May God’s grace and the love of your family and friends see you through. With Sincerest condolences, Brian Kelly.”

Father and son had enjoyed many a Saturday pulling for the Irish, in several sports in fact. In 2015, Tyler and Anthony traveled to the ND campus in South Bend, Ind., to see their team battle in person against Louisville. Hearing the Notre Dame Glee Club sing the school’s alma mater brought tears to the eyes of Anthony. Later father and son built memories for a lifetime as they experienced a Notre Dame victory in person at the Music City Bowl in Nashville.