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Through all that James Ackerman did and loved, football was the common thread.

As close to 1000 mourners gathered to farewell Sunshine Coast footballer "Ackers", who died after being seriously injured in a tackle, it was his own words that most articulated this.

“I am what I am because of football,” concluded a Year 12 essay that Ackerman had written.

He first played rugby league at St John's in Dubbo before an AFL dalliance once he moved to the Sunshine Coast's Talara State School. He then moved on to rugby league school of excellence Mountain Creek State High School.


For the "gentle giant" who many were lucky to get three words out of, this essay provided more insight and more into his person than most.

The beginning of his relationship with wife Saraa, which brought them two children, was started as simply as him saying, “you should be my girlfriend some time,” to which she replied “how about now?”

Former teacher and school coach Rob Brough recalled a letter he had written to James thanking him for his influence , only to receive no response. 

“(I thought) perhaps I've sent this to the wrong address, maybe it didn't resonate,” he said.

“Two or three months later, I talked to his mum Sonya and she said, ‘you know that letter you wrote James?' He had it framed and he put it above the TV in the lounge’.”

Team mates and family members remembered the footballer. Photo: Glenn Hunt

It was through State of Origin that Ackerman relayed the importance of his family, as the NSW-born boy cheered for Queensland.

“Queensland were smashing NSW so I should've been happy, but I wasn't I looked over at my family and ... I switched back to NSW,” he wrote.

“You know what, feeling bad with them was better than to feel good without them.”

Long-time friend Todd Murphy was Ackerman's first neighbour when the family moved to the Sunshine Coast. 

The pair played much of their football together, at the Broncos' Under-20s and the Redcliffe Dolphins.

“Anything he did he did because he loved it,” he said.

“He made everything fun. Life was fun - whether it was pranks played on school mates or deliberately filling his car up to $20.02 to get that extra litre of fuel.

“Ackers, mate, I'll think of you every day, (of) every time we had a laugh, a fight, everything we did together.

“It might have looked stupid in others' eyes but we thought we were geniuses.

“Every bet we'd cheered home. I'll carry you everywhere I go.”

Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett featured in a video salute to Ackerman, who played two seasons of Under 20s at the club.

“What's happened here today will stay with us all of our lives,” he said.

“I'm sure all of you that are mates will always be mates and be bonded by James and all the other things that rugby league has given all of us.”

Bennett spoke of the bravery James' family had shown since his shock death and the support of the local community.

“Courage is something we all hope we have and all hope is a part of us,” he said.

“I've got to say you've shown so much courage in all of this and through your wonderful gestures and your understanding of what's happened here, you've lightened the load for so many people.

“I know it's in your most tragic hour, but at the same time you've shown courage and bravery way above your station.”

NRL CEO Dave Smith, Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy and Queensland and Melbourne captain Cameron Smith were among those who attended Ackerman's funeral.

The Falcons will play their first game since Ackerman's death this weekend after sitting out last weekend's fixture, but they will be retiring the number eight jersey permanently in honour of Ackerman. 

Ackerman's uncles Tony Hart and Darren Ahsee, spoke of a “gentle giant”, a quietly spoken man with a deep love for his family, reading messages from relatives, including the two young children, Ollie and Milly.

“Uncle Andrew told us Daddy is now the brightest star in the sky and he'll always be looking after us.”

Ackerman's Redcliffe Dolphins and Sunshine Coast Falcons teammates gathered around the Sunshine Coast Stadium field's edges as Ackermann was taken on a final lap of honour around the stadium.

This first appeared on Brisbane Times.