At the request of Georgia Tech student-athlete character coach Derrick Moore, Kyle Cerge-Henderson leads all current and former football student-athletes and coaches in attendance in singing the Yellow Jackets' fight song in Brandon Adams’ honor. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

Through tears and smiles, Brandon Adams remembered at Georgia Tech memorial

One by one, they came to mourn with the family of Brandon Adams.

Some new enough to Georgia Tech to have only briefly been teammates with the giant of a man who succumbed to unexpected death late Saturday night from a cause that remained undetermined as of Monday. Others who had been his teammate or coached Adams for all of his three seasons as a Yellow Jackets defensive tackle. And others who had come to and left Tech before him, members of the Tech football lineage, normally connected by their shared sweat and toil upon Grant Field, but on this day joined by their grief for a fallen brother.

About 15 members of Adams’ family stood in the front row of McCamish Pavilion, typically a venue for raucous celebration but on this early evening a place for quiet reflection.

At the end of the memorial service for Adams Monday, members of the team, past and present, were called out of the stands to the floor to sing the Tech fight song — character development Derrick Moore, acting as officiant for the service, shared from the podium that hearing the fight song at the end of a Jackets victory was one of Adams’ loves.

After the rendition, led by Adams’ close friend and former teammate Kyle Cerge-Henderson, the group of perhaps 200 filed one by one past Adams’ family. They shared their grief in an expression of love most fitting for this day — deep, lasting and tight hugs, the kind that Adams was known to generously dole out.

“On this side of heaven, we lost a great champion,” Moore said in his opening remarks. “A great human being.”

The service was attended by perhaps 400, including the current team and coaching staff, former team members and coaches, and coaches, athletes and staff from across the athletic department. Former coach Paul Johnson and several members of his staff were among the gathering.

Former Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson takes a moment as he speaks about Brandon Adams before a memorial service Monday, March 25, 2019, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. Adams, 21, died Saturday after collapsing at a friend's home near campus.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

“Brandon impacted a lot of us in a very special way, and it’s our charge to carry that on moving forward, but, again, this is a tough time for everybody involved in the organization,” coach Geoff Collins said in a news conference following the service.

Besides Moore, athletic director Todd Stansbury, assistant AD for student-athlete development Leah Thomas, teammate Brentavious Glanton, head trainer Mark Smith and Cerge-Henderson also addressed the service. They spoke through tears and smiles, sometimes having to pause to collect themselves.

Smith observed that Adams’ physical size — 300-plus pounds — was only an insignificant part of the reason for his nickname, “Big B.” Adams, Smith said, had hugs, warmth and a laugh that were similarly portioned.

“It came from way down deep in his belly,” Smith said of his laugh. “You could hear it down the hall.”

Cerge-Henderson, who was a fellow defensive lineman with Adams for the past three seasons, recalled how, in his first preseason camp, Adams was called to the head of the defensive line meeting room to diagram a play.

It was supposed to be a solo exam, but Cerge-Henderson, taking pity on the freshman, whispered out help out of earshot of then-position coach Mike Pelton. Adams nailed the play and turned back to face the room with a smile on his face, Cerge-Henderson said. Pelton asked how he had done it.

Hundreds gather to honor Georgia Tech football player Brandon Adams for a memorial service at McCamish Pavilion Monday, March 25, 2019.
Photo: Georgia Tech Athletics

“He said, ‘Honestly, Kyle told me,’ ” Cerge-Henderson said. “Everyone in the room started busting out laughing.”

Tech will begin spring practice as scheduled Tuesday morning. Collins said that, after a previously scheduled team meeting Sunday night that became an impromptu memorial service, he left it up to team leaders to decide how to proceed. They determined that Adams would have wanted the team to practice as scheduled. Players did decide to close the session to media and not have interviews afterward. Monday’s memorial also was a request.

Collins said that players will wear decals with Adams’ No. 90 jersey number on their helmets and also that his seat in the team meeting room (the players have assigned seating) will be left vacant. Other means of honoring Adams have yet to be decided.

Collins recalled a final interaction with Adams, at the end of the team’s final workout on March 15, before players left campus for spring break. Collins made sure to give every team member a hug and tell each to be safe.

“I remember Brandon just hugging me — he’s a big guy and squeezing me tight — and just told him how much I care about him and love him,” Collins said. “He was great as always, so he will be greatly missed.”

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