I first heard the story of James Eunice last Sunday when a post from UGA superfan Mark Dunbar showed up in my Facebook news feed.
Here’s what Mark passed along:
James Eunice, 17, from Valdosta, fell from a boat three weeks ago and drowned while duck hunting. He was found this Monday and his funeral was yesterday. James had been accepted at UGA, and his intention was to try and walk-on the football team. During the busiest time of his year, Coach Mark Richt sent a letter stating James had made the team, and a UGA jersey with his name on the back, was presented to the family.
One word came to mind and I added it as a comment to Mark’s post: Classy.
The story of Eunice is filled out by reports in the Valdosta Daily Times and Thomasville Times-Enterprise. Eunice had played baseball and football at Valdosta High School and had been accepted to the University of Georgia. He had contacted Richt about walking on as a football Bulldog.
Then came the drowning in the hunting accident. During Eunice’s funeral, two of his Valdosta teammates who have signed to play for Richt, Jay Rome and Malcolm Mitchell, got up to speak. Rome read a letter to the Eunice family from Richt in which he talked about his hearbreak over the young man’s death. At the end of the letter the coach added, “Oh yeah, James made the team.”
Then Rome and Mitchell unveiled an official UGA jersey with Eunice’s last name and the No. 23 he had worn at Valdosta. The tearful crowd at the funeral stood and applauded.
The letter and jersey were a simple gesture, but as Mark noted on Facebook, the timing made it all the more impressive, considering the strains of wrapping up easily the most important recruiting campaign in Richt’s coaching career with his job possibly on the line.
“I’m going to play for an incredible man,” Rome said.
Added Mitchell: “It made me proud to be a Bulldog.”
Sometimes, in the fervor over ranked recruiting classes and won-loss records that permeates big-time college football these days, fans can lose sight of some of the more important things.
I’ve heard some UGA fans who’ve lost faith in Richt actually fret that he’ll win just enough games this year to keep his job. Frustrated by the Dogs’ mediocre performances the past couple of years, they’d rather start over with a new coach than see this one get his program back on track.
I certainly don’t think Mark Richt is a perfect football coach and there are plenty of things about his program I’d like to see improved. But the James Eunice story is just one of the reasons I’m really pulling hard for Richt to get back on top.
Like I said on Facebook, he’s a classy guy. And that’s kind of rare in college coaching these days.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg