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A Different and Tragic Week For College Football

Normally we would be writing about the biggest college football games here, but with the tragic events impacting the UVA Football team it seemed that something else needed to be written. For those looking for your weekly Pigskin Stew Fix--the link to Pigskin Stew Radio is here. We run through the weekend's biggest game, talk to beat writers from Penn State --Mike Poorman ( Pitt --Chris Carter (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and West Virginia --Dale Wolfley and have an interview with former UVA and 10-year NFL RB Terry Kirby. To hear the full show click below. To listen specifically to the Terry Kirby interview go to the next link and click there. The interview with Terry Kirby is really impactful, as he talks about what is happening at UVA.

Through Suffering too Terrible to Name --You Are Not Alone

Early Monday morning I came to a stop sign on the mostly-still Penn State campus just a few miles from home. The sun had yet to rise, and the streetlamps were still on. Across the way a student or two walked along a distant sidewalk.

It was quiet and peaceful. But a few hundred miles south another University was in lockdown after the Sunday evening peace was shattered by the sounds of gunfire. The Sunday night shooting at The University of Virginia was weighing heavily on my mind. My wife went to UVA. I started my coaching career at UVA, we met there.

UVA is a special place, with a complex history. And not just a distant complexity, for it was at UVA and in Charlottesville in 2017 where an Alt-right event ended in violence and death. It captured the nation’s attention and prodded many to act and to change the course of the nation’s arc backwards to a more hateful time.

From the ashes of that event and the George Floyd killing came a group on the UVA football team called “The Groundskeepers”, a group of civic-minded football student-athletes who knew that there was so much more to that role than just playing a game.

UVA wide receiver Lavel Davis was part of that group. In an interview with Andrea Adelson of ESPN he talked about why he was part of that group: “When I leave here, I just want to say, I was a part of the change, and I took a step forward, changing everything in the right direction. Whatever I can do, even if it’s a small percentage to bring awareness to all the injustice our school has been through, just to shine a light on it and change it in the right direction. It’s a blessing to be a part of it. Because I know these four years are going to go by quickly. I for sure want to say I took a step forward for UVA.”

Sunday night he was killed by gunshots on the grounds of the University he sought to impact.

His teammates Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry were also killed. Another teammate Mike Hollins was shot as was another student Marlee Morgan. Those two will survive, but their lives are indelibly marked by that same inexplicable and violent act.

This is not supposed to happen. As the shootings at Sandy Hook or Uvalde happened, all over the country parents of children that age felt gutted at the idea that it could happened to someone in their child's peer group.

This is not different. Parents are not supposed to bury their children no matter their child’s age.

Football student-athletes at a school like UVA are not supposed to die at the hands of a fellow student wielding the power of a deadly weapon that we as a society have become all too comfortable with.

UVA is an incredible place, and across the years its football program has attracted young men of all races and faiths who came there for something unique. Coach George Welsh built a program offering talented student-athletes a world-class education with a chance to play football at the game’s highest level. The men who chose to play there have always been special. It was that way three decades ago when I was there, it has remained ever thus.

That only adds to the tragedy. These three young men were on a path to enter life with a meaningful education from one of the great institutions of higher learning in the world. They were going to have the experiences from football that build leadership, that teach us to work with others, to come together in common cause.

But Sunday night, as shots rang out, their potential was cut short. While their mortal life has passed, their light will live on in those who will never forget them.

But these tragedies are indeed one of the strangest parts of living in America. UVA's founder Thomas Jefferson wrote of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that pursuit is dependent on a trust that others wielding their right to bear arms choose not to take our lives at any given moment.

That’s not a political statement, it is a fact.

And so three families will make their way to the hills of Virginia. There they will come to join a club that no parent wants to join. There will be no gameday for them this weekend; the first in a long list of life moments stolen from their sons.

Instead, they will be cleaning out apartments, gathering belongings and coming to face a loss so awful that only the divine grace of God can even begin to start to heal minds, hearts and souls.

Most of my professional career was spent coaching exceptional young men like these three young men. There is nothing to prepare anyone for any loss. But to have it happen like it did at UVA, to have three teammates taken from you in one senseless act of gun violence is a burden beyond anything a team should bear.

No words, no wishes of thoughts and prayers can ever ease the pain, can ever fill the void.

The darkness can overwhelm. The sorrow, the loss, the pain…..

In the Musical "Hamilton" the actress playing Eliza Hamilton sings about the loss of her child:

“There are moments that the words don't reach

There is suffering too terrible to name

You hold your child as tight as you can

And push away the unimaginable

The moments when you're in so deep

It feels easier to just swim down

In moments of loss, it does seem easier to just swim down.

As UVA classes resume, there will be empty seats. There will be three lockers that no longer have smiling faces in front of them. Friends, classmates, roommates, professors will see the void where D’Sean, Lavel and Devin once walked, and learned, and laughed and lived.

Time’s ebb and flow has a way of lessening pain through a steady erosion we like to call “getting back to normal.” Do we ever truly get back to “normal?”

One can only help but think of what those moments were like when the students on the bus saw a gun and realized the shooter's intent. They saw five classmates shot. They saw humanity's darkest act.

In desperation's darkest moments, sometimes we see light, it may be just a flicker, but it is there. It is the light of grace, of humanity at its best. That came through in the words of a fellow student in a Washington Post article this week. She was on that bus and spoke of trying to help the students who were shot.

She said “The one thing that gives me comfort is I know each one of them had somebody in our class trying to help them. I want their families to know that. In their last moments, they weren’t alone.

To have that awareness at a young age is incredible. It is a lesson for us all. Because in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, these families, this team, the UVA students and community will need to know that they, those surviving such loss, that they too are not alone.


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