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Military family whose son passed away invited to Super Bowl by Falcons coach

A military family that knows the true meaning of sacrifice is heading to the Super Bowl with tickets courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons head coach.

It’ll be the trip of a lifetime, but it’s one the family wishes they weren’t eligible to receive. Their son and brother, Zachary Boland, passed away at 18 years old after becoming ill during basic training for the Marines.

At age 11 Boland knew what he had to do. He spent every day of his life preparing to join the Marines. 

“He never wavered. He was all in,” said his mother, Sam.

He and his younger brother planned go into it together. But in basic training in 2016 Zachary became ill and passed away.

His brother Nathaniel followed through with their plan.

“He was definitely committed to picking up his brother’s rifle and going forward,” said their father, Bob. “I know that we’re very proud of him for that. It’s just a very surreal experience to have to go through that. Almost identically a year later the same things are happening. He’s enlisting, we’re going to all the same places that we had taken Zachary. So it was an incredibly emotional experience for us.”

Although Bob spent two years in the military, he and Sam say they never pushed it on their six kids.

“They could do anything they wanted and we would support that,” Sam said. “But they chose to be Marines and they are.”

“He was definitely one of these young men who had natural military bearing,” said Bob. “The way he carried himself, the way he lived his life, just everything a parent would be proud of.”

“Zachary always carried a coin and he would do a good deed every day,” added Sam. ‘When he would do a good deed he would change it from one pocket to the other.”

“Yeah, that was something he got from Boy Scouts,” said Bob.

The Boland family is helped by TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in boot camp or you’ve been in for 20 years. If you need help, ask,” said Sam.

They encourage more young soldiers to get help when they need it, to carry on the mission their son spent his life training for.

Bob says he’s honored to go with Nathaniel to the Super Bowl. Zachary played football in high school in Madison. He always wanted to be a teammate and practice for his goal to join the team that defends the country.

Dan Quinn, Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons, worked with the Official NFL Salute to Service Partner USAA and TAPS to award the tickets to the Bolands.