Heat Eyed In Players Death
Georgia high school mourns loss of rising junior.
Extreme heat is being investigated as the possible cause of death for a Georgia football player.
He was a dominant figure on the football field.
As a sophomore, D. J. 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. The whole team loved him. It's not going to be the same without Searcy," said an emotional Stepman Stevens.
The two were teammates and 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.
He had just finished a morning practice.
The teen 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 lined the road leading to the field house to show their support.
Even representatives cross town rival Irwin County put competition aside to pay their respects.
A silence came over the crowd that had gathered as two buses loaded with players and coaches drove by.
Searcy's cousin Kathleen remembers D. J. as a gentle giant.
"He was a great football player and he was like a big teddy bear," she said.
She says 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 Volkswagen Bug parked outside the school where Searcy was a rising Junior 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.
"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," he said.
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," said Garrett.
When asked what Searcy would want from his teammates and coaches, Stevens didn't hesitate when he said, "Win the state champion 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.
Tragically, Searcy was the second Georgia high school football player to die on Tuesday.
A metro Atlanta football player who suffered heat stroke after a practice last week died Tuesday night.
16-year-old Forrest Jones played for Locust Grove High School.
He had been in a coma since his collapse and died at an Atlanta hospital.