It was the beginning of March, and Georgia Tech’s football team was being stretched to its limits.
Coach Geoff Collins had brought Eric Kapitulik, founder of a leadership development and team-building program called The Program, to campus. Through a battery of physically and mentally demanding exercises, Yellow Jackets players were being pushed outside of their comfort zones as a means to developing cohesion.
“We were just going through a lot as a team that night, and ‘Big B’ came in,” running back Nathan Cottrell said.
Cottrell was referring to Brandon Adams, a bear of a defensive tackle who freely dealt out enveloping hugs and invariably wore a smile.
“He came into the team room and just had nothing but positive things to say and just backed everything up he said with just so much more positive enforcement,” Cottrell said. “It was just like, we’re fine, guys. We’re going to be all right. And we were, and we have been.”
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Adams was dead within a month of that bright moment, after he fell backwards and hit his head while taking a break from practicing a step-dancing routine. Shocked and devastated by Adams’ death, Jackets players sought to honor him in the season to come.
They perform a “Big B!” chant at the start of every practice and before every game. A heart with Adams’ No. 90 inside is affixed to each jersey above the nameplate. Late in regulation of the Miami game, defensive lineman Antwan Owens said a short prayer to “God and Big B and all my angels that’s upstairs watching over me.” Owens then made one of the bigger plays of the season, a field-goal block that forced overtime in the most significant win this season.
And for all 12 games, Collins has selected one player to wear No. 90 in Adams’ memory and honor. Cottrell was selected for the third game of the season, against The Citadel.
“Every day we honor Big B, and we’ll never forget what he means to us and the type of leader and just the type of teammate he was while we were blessed to have him,” Cottrell said.
As Tech’s season concludes Saturday with its annual game against archrival Georgia, Jackets players accorded the honor of wearing Adams’ No. 90 shared their own memories and thoughts of their fallen teammate.
Chris Martin, junior defensive tackle, Clemson and Georgia games
Martin was one of Adams’ closest friends on the team, and there is a grace note in him being the first and last Tech player to take part in the honor this season.
Speaking in August before the season opener against Clemson, Martin pledged to help keep Adams’ legacy and name alive through his play.
“When coach Collins told me, I tried to hold back tears,” Martin said then. “But it definitely caught me by surprise, and I definitely appreciate the gesture from coach and the whole staff.”
Tyler Cooksey, senior tight end, South Florida and N.C. State games
Players chosen to wear No. 90 lead the team in its “Big B!” chant at the start of warm-ups. It was at that moment, Cooksey said, that he “could definitely feel it then. It was emotional. Everything that we do, we want to do it in honor of him.”
Cooksey called being tabbed to wear Adams’ jersey “a tremendous honor, just because I thought so highly of Brandon.”
Cooksey offered his hope that he represented Adams well, and that Adams was aware of and smiling over the team’s progress in Collins’ first season.
“No matter what the record is right now, I feel great about who we are as a team and where we’re going,” Cooksey said.
Tyler Davis, senior tight end, Duke game
As a graduate transfer who arrived on campus in January, Davis did not have much time to get to know Adams. Still, he made an impression.
“I remember when I first got here and I met Big B, just seeing how hard he worked and his smile and his bear hug,” Davis said.
After Collins named Davis as one of the captains for the team’s offseason competition, he showed Davis the list of co-captains that he would assign to each captain. When Davis saw Adams’ name on the list, he was the only one he wanted.
Davis was in the cafeteria when Collins informed him that he had indeed been paired with Adams, “and I just ran up to (Adams) because there was no one else I wanted,” Davis said. “Because I saw how hard he worked, I saw great of a teammate he was, I saw how great of a human being he was and I knew he was going to do great things.”
Davis said that being chosen to wear No. 90 meant the world for the type of person that Adams was.
“We miss him so much and I hope that we made him proud this year,” he said.
Kelton Dawson, sophomore defensive end, North Carolina game
Dawson likened Adams to a brother when he arrived at Tech, “always there to help me and just keep me up” when he was struggling. The pain of his loss was even greater, Dawson said, because he had lost other close friends in high school at Stockbridge High.
Speaking in October, Dawson said he almost started to tear up when Collins informed him that he would wear Adams’ number against the Tar Heels, a game in which he recorded a career-high two tackles for loss.
“You ask (my teammates),” Dawson said. “I was smiling so hard. It was just a great feeling.”
Brentavious Glanton, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh game
As defensive linemen, Glanton and Adams were close. One way in which they were bound – as Adams had a tendency to fall asleep in meetings, Glanton’s job was to tap him to keep him awake and alert.
“Just thinking about it after everything happened, you never know when life can hit,” Glanton said.
Glanton called the privilege to wear No. 90 and represent his friend a blessing and one of his favorite memories of the season. He’ll particularly remember walking out to the coin toss, having also been selected to be a game captain.
“Just walking out with it on and just feeling it,” Glanton said. “I felt like it was the presence of Big B being there. It felt great being able to wear it and support Big B and just be able to pay in his name.”
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