Family and football: Premature newborn outshines the game for Liberty North coach

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- It's a weekly happening that brings metro families together.

High school football takes center stage on Friday nights. However, family concerns rose to the forefront in recent weeks for one member of Liberty North's coaching staff.

Coaches often say they've sign up for their job because they love kids. Liberty North Safeties Coach Alec Eslick couldn't have known the concern he'd feel for his own son.

Baker Eslick was born on Aug. 15, six weeks ahead of his expected delivery date. Baker spent 26 days in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Leah Eslick, Alec's wife, gave birth to the baby, whose weight was only five pounds, 13 ounces. Doctors don't know what caused Baker to arrive prematurely.

"It's really easy for your mind to spiral and worry about the worst case scenarios happening to you," Leah Eslick said. "I was worried that he'd come out and not be breathing at all. Luckily, that didn't happen."

Aside from a low heart rate, which pediatricians believe will improve, Baker is expected to be fine. The Eslicks said Baker's time in the NICU allowed the baby's lungs time to develop.

"We watched some football together, and he watched film with me a couple of times," Alec Eslick told FOX4 News. "We broke down some opponents together. Then, he would pass out and I'd keep working."

"I was worried about Baker being in the NICU, but I was worried about [Alec] too. He gives his heart to these kids at Liberty North," Leah Eslick said.

Eagles players and coaches said they rallied around their safeties coach, filling in the gaps when he had to be at the hospital. Greg Jones, Liberty North's third year head coach, said the team encouraged Eslick to spend time with his loved ones.

The Eslicks said that love and support made a big difference.

"Family comes first. I know Coach was feeling bad, but it`s the same thing I told him, 'You've got a kid at the hospital waiting on you'," Jones said. "Your butt needs to be with your wife and your kid."

"We kind of decided early on that he's born, he's on this earth, he has his health, he has us," Alec Eslick said. "We're extremely lucky."

Liberty North (2-0) is due to host Park Hill (2-0) on Friday night in a 7 p.m. kickoff.

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