A year after his death, remembering the light of Brandon Adams

Brandon Adams posing with his mother Lisa Greer. Adams "always thought of ways of how he could make the world a better place and imprint himself upon the world," Greer said, "so that when he was no longer here, the world would recognize that he had been here."

Brandon Adams posing with his mother Lisa Greer. Adams "always thought of ways of how he could make the world a better place and imprint himself upon the world," Greer said, "so that when he was no longer here, the world would recognize that he had been here."

To his last day, Brandon Adams acted on his instinct to serve.

A Georgia Tech football player, Adams was hanging out with four fraternity brothers at the apartment of one of the young men. In the recollection of one of the four — Adams’ close friend and Yellow Jackets teammate Chris Martin — the five grew hungry, so Adams ran off to get materials for a cookout, returned and grilled hamburgers for his friends.

That was Adams, those who knew him well say. Whether it was giving rides to friends in his Nissan Altima, lending them a few dollars or larger gestures like serving charitable organizations, Adams eagerly sought to meet the needs of those around him.

“He was a person of the people, and that’s something I recognize being his mother,” said Lisa Greer, Adams’ mother. “I had the honor of being his mother, but he was so much bigger than my son.”

A year ago Monday, not long after he prepared that impromptu meal, Adams' joyful life came to a tragic end. After practicing a step-show routine with his fraternity brothers, Adams collapsed and was taken to Emory University Hospital Midtown, where he was unable to be resuscitated. He was 21.

A year later, after the loss of the elder of her two children, Greer said she feels an indescribable numbness that she wouldn’t wish on anyone. She knows she will never be the same person that she was before the evening of March 23, 2019. Still, she feels gratitude.

“It’s something that I’ve never taken lightly and, even in his absence, I feel so grateful that God chose me,” she said.

Greer continues to lead her life as a payroll manager in Memphis, Tenn. — the family relocated from Nashville, where Adams grew up, in 2016 — raising Adams’ sister Rian Woods, now a high school sophomore. In an interview with the AJC last week, mother and daughter could laugh about Adams, like his favorite meal of spaghetti and peas and how he played Rian in “ice hockey” — batting around an ice cube in the house with sticks found in the backyard.

"Definitely his smile," Greer said, asked her favorite memories of her son. "Just his quirkiness. He always had a theory about everything. I thought of him recently with COVID-19 going. I'm telling you, he would be able to go back to some Egyptian or Hebrew (history) or something in the past that predicted the coming of this epidemic."

Greer also spoke of a desire to carry on the community service that was so important to her son. Adams had already begun lifting the lives of the young and the underprivileged, and the difference he might have made in the years and decades to come is now unknowable.

“Brandon was just a humble spirit, a great spirit, and he really wanted to make a mark and an impact on the world,” Greer said.

‘He loved everybody the same’

At Tech, he made trips with other Jackets athletes to a Ronald McDonald House in Atlanta and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Tech assistant director Leah Thomas, who supervises community-outreach programs for Tech athletes, was witness to Adams’ heart for children, including her three kids.

Thomas said she saw in him “a desire to be a mentor and impact those that were younger than him, even much younger than him at the time. I think that was definitely reflected in the stuff you saw him get involved with.”

Martin was close with Adams, having been roommates as freshmen and then both playing defensive tackle for the Jackets. With a big smile and a humble nature, Adams had little trouble connecting with all he came across. Martin saw that when they were roommates.

“It was cool because you’d walk in randomly and see Brandon studying with somebody who’s coming from a completely different background as you,” Martin said. “It’d be weird, because it’s like, What? You know him? But he looked at everybody the same and he loved everybody the same, and that’s kind of what made him special.”

In February 2019, Martin spoke at the Metro Atlanta Football Recruiting Summit, run by their fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. The event serves to connect coaches from Division II teams and other lower-level schools with high school seniors looking for scholarship help and opportunities to play.

Adams was unable to attend but was enthusiastic about participating in years to come to mentor and support high school football players.

“Brandon just always wanted to help people,” Martin said. “Just being kind — that was just kind of who he was.”

The recruiting event has been renamed in Adams’ honor. Martin, who had Adams’ No. 90 jersey number tattooed on his left bicep in December for his birthday (his birthday is a day after Adams’), said that he’ll continue without his friend to participate in the recruiting summit.

Brandon Adams reads to children in Horizons Atlanta, a summer-learning program for at-risk children with one location at Georgia Tech.  Adams' mother Lisa Greer said that he had a particular fondness for children “just because he was such a big guy and the kids would kind of, like, run and jump on him.” 

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‘He was like my big brother’

Victoria Flores, a member of the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team, first met Adams in October 2017. Adams was a sophomore on the football team and Flores was a freshman.

Adams was returning to his on-campus apartment after having played a home football game. Flores was in the parking lot of the same complex, putting clothes in her car to take to the Gateway Center, a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta.

They recognized each other, and Adams asked what she was doing. When Flores explained, Adams asked if she was going by herself.

“I was like,’ yes,’ ” Flores said, “and he goes, ‘Well, not anymore. I’m going with you.’ ”

Upon their arrival, an employee named Cedric Phillips took receipt of their donations. A Tech fan, Phillips pegged the jumbo-sized Adams for a football player and engaged him in conversation. Adams handed him a gold, Tech collared shirt from the pile of clothes.

After the chance meeting, Adams and Flores became friends and joined forces in collecting clothes from teammates and other Tech athletes to donate.

“He was like my big brother, and he always took care of me and just made sure I was good,” Flores said. “He did that with everyone.”

Last September, Flores made her first trip to the Gateway Center since Adams’ death. Flores was caught up in her emotions, recalling the many times she and Adams had made the drive together. When she pulled up, Phillips happened to be on duty. And he was wearing the same gold shirt that Adams had given him two years earlier.

“It was like a sign of, ‘I’m still here, I still got you,’ ” Flores said.

That moment sparked what Flores called a light-bulb moment. She could expand her donations into a full-scale clothing drive, she said, “and continue his legacy of giving and just simply doing things for other people.”

Two months later, supported by Tech’s student-athlete advisory board, Flores led the first “Big B Clothing Drive” (“Big B” was Adams’ nickname). Before the football team’s Nov. 16 home game against Virginia Tech, hundreds of items were collected and taken to the Gateway Center.

“It was amazing,” Flores said.

Thomas, the Tech assistant AD, said that she will consider it her responsibility to carry forward the clothing drive, just like she does the athletic department's Michael Isenhour Toy Drive — named for a former Tech basketball player who died in 2002 after a battle with leukemia.

Georgia Tech nose tackle Brandon Adams speaks with media after practice October 8, 2018. 

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Carrying Adams’ banner

Adams’ passion for lifting up colored his vision for the future. Greer and Martin said that Adams shared with them a plan to attend law school. The goal was not a high-paying career, Adams’ mother said, but “because he actually wanted to affect social change, and part of affecting social change is impacting laws and regulations that bring about change.”

Martin said that he could envision Adams becoming a politician, a community leader or running a home for boys from broken homes or deemed delinquent.

“His life was about service,” Martin said. “I can’t see him in a career where he wasn’t doing something for somebody, if it wasn’t the NFL.”

Greer does not know yet how she will carry on her son’s legacy of service, though she wants to explore the possibilities soon. At present, she is focused on making it one day at a time.

“I want to make sure, whatever it is I do, it is the right thing and not just a rushed opportunity,” she said.

But in a clothing drive, a recruiting fair and likely through kindnesses expressed daily by those inspired by his example, Adams’ impact on the world already continues, ripples in a pond.