South Ga. town mourns young football player's death

9:02 AM, Aug 3, 2011   |    comments
(WALB Albany)
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FITZGERALD, Ga. -- He was a dominate figure on the football field. As a sophomore, DJ Searcy used his size and strength to become an integral part of Fitzgerald High's defensive line.

But when his teammates returned home Tuesday evening from football camp, they were without number 79.

"Searcy was a great player," said his teammate Stepman Stevens. "The whole team loved him. It's not going to be the same without Searcy." The teammates had been practicing this week at Florida Bible Camp.

Searcy was found unresponsive Tuesday in his cabin at the camp located near Lake City, Florida. The rising junior had just finished a morning practice and was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died.

"There's one thing about Searcy, he might be gone, but he will always live in my heart no matter what," Stevens said.

In "Cane Country" where football is a way of life - a sea of purple - hundreds of supporters lined the road leading to Fitzgerald High's field house to show their support.

Even representatives from cross town rival Irwin County put competition aside to pay their respects.

A silence came over the crowd as two buses loaded with players and coaches drove by.

Searcy's cousin Kathleen remembers DJ as a gentle giant. "He was a great football player and he was like a big teddy bear," she said.

She said the family, like the community, is shocked over his death.
"He was so young and had so much going for him," she said.

Grief counselors and local ministers were on hand to meet with players and coaches at the field house. People hugged one another and wiped dry eyes. The back window of a Volkswagen Bug parked outside the school had the message "RIP Searcy #79."

"It's tough," said FHS Principal Randy Garrett.

Garrett, who also serves as defensive coordinator, was with the team in Florida when the tragedy occurred. He said, "I'm not sure what the words would be to describe the emotions that they feel individually and collectively, and what we all feel as a team, a school, and a community."

And while the Friday night lights will glow a little dimmer this fall when Fitzgerald takes the field, the players and coaches agree number 79 will be right there with them.

"This season's for him. No question," Garrett said.

When asked what Searcy would want from his teammates and coaches, Stevens didn't hesitate when he said, "Win the state champion[ship] for him. It's all for him."

For the rest of this week, all school related activities have been canceled.

An autopsy is scheduled to determine an exact cause of death and there's no word of any underlying health conditions.

Tragically, Searcy was the second Georgia high school football player to die on Tuesday.

A Henry County football player who suffered heat stroke after a practice last week died Tuesday night.

Forrest Jones played for Locust Grove High School.

The 16-year-old had been in a coma since his collapse. 

(WALB Albany)

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