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Like father, like son

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Derick Dillard is not a quitter.

He had made up his mind in the fall of his freshman year at OSU. He would try out to be Pistol Pete, but keep it a surprise from nearly everyone -— especially his father, a former Pistol Pete himself.

On the morning of Jan. 18, 2008, his mother, Cathy Dillard, drove to Stillwater to deliver the heartbreaking news to her son.

An unknown heart condition had taken the life of his father, Rick Dillard, 50.

"That was the first thing that Derick said when I told him that his dad died: ‘I never got to tell him that I was going to try out for Pete,'" she said.

The father that was always there for him through everything was suddenly gone.

No one would have blamed him for giving up, but knowing her son, she assumed otherwise.

"Everything he has done has been almost in spite of adversity, and I am not sure he knows any other way to do it," Cathy Dillard said.

After going back to Arkansas to say goodbye one last time at his father's funeral, Derick took only a couple days off from school.

He said he was was determined to get back to where he believed his father would want him.

"I didn't want to get behind in my classes," Derick said. "I knew my dad would want me to do well in school."

Derick now had a decision — forget about the tryouts and his goal of following in his father's spur-clad footsteps or overcome.

That April, Derick didn't make the cut to be Pistol Pete in 2008.

He once again had a decision to make.

"I saw it as a challenge. It motivated me," Derick said. "I talked to former Petes, especially with the 50th anniversary celebration last season with all the Petes coming back. I got the opportunity to connect with them and learn more about what it means to be Pete."

In April 2009, Derick tried out again. The results lacked the pain that he had become accustomed to.

His mother, just as nervous about the outcome, was nearly unable to handle the suspense of Derick's second attempt at putting on the famous fiberglass head for a panel of judges.

"I think I had to call him because I waited and waited and waited and waited," Cathy said.

When Derick's mom finally got a hold of her son, a certain feeling of relief prevailed over her, and the Dillards were able to take another step in their new lives.

"I think it was a way for him to give something back," she said. "When you lose someone you think of the stuff you wish you'd said, wish you'd done and this was a way for him to wrap that all up and give it back."

Literal success or not, his friends planned to celebrate Derick's perseverance, but it was that same perseverance that allowed them to meet for more than just a moral victory.

"We were hoping that he was going to make it," Stephen Jones said. "We were going to go out and go to IHOP and celebrate whether he made it or console him if he didn't make it."

More than a year after his father's passing, Derick now shared a unique bond with him.

"The thing about Petes and former Petes is that it is almost like a fraternity of men who have portrayed Oklahoma State's mascot," Derick said.

It was a heart condition that unexpectedly took the life of Rick Dillard in January 2008. It was the strength of his son, Derick, that forever preserved the memory of that life in April 2009.