‘A beam of light’: Chandler LeCroy left a legacy in UGA football and beyond

Sharon Thomason stood in an Athens-area hospital Sunday morning and looked over her niece’s body. She waited patiently for Chandler LeCroy to sit up and crack a smart comment that would cause the entire room to erupt in laughter.

She didn’t. The unfathomable happened.

“She laid right there, like sleeping beauty,” said Thomason, LeCroy’s aunt. “A kiss wasn’t going to work like it does in fairytales. Our entire family is so devastated. It’s hard to even believe it’s not a dream.”

Hours earlier, LeCroy, 24, who worked in the recruiting office, and Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock, 20, were killed in a car accident on the 900 block of Barnett Shoals Road. Warren McClendon and fellow recruiting staffer Tory Bowles were the surviving passengers of the crash.

Georgia celebrated its second consecutive national title, an event that was the highlight of LeCroy’s career with the Bulldogs, with a parade and ceremony in the preceding hours.

LeCroy, with two degrees from Georgia, had an unwavering passion for the university she represented, according to those who knew her. She left a legacy that began with aspirations of becoming the first-ever athletic director at Stephens County High School. She traveled south to Athens where she received her dream job of working inside Georgia football’s recruiting department.

“To know Chandler Lou was to love her,” said Erin Rickman, wife of LeCroy’s cousin, Chris Rickman.

FOREVER A FRIEND

LeCroy’s journey began in a Stephens County cheerleading uniform. It’s how the beloved football fan expressed her love for sport and when she forged one of her most valuable relationships.

Cathy Thornton, the school’s competition cheerleading coach, instantly connected with LeCroy. She became more than her coach, but instead a best friend despite an age difference of over 20 years. They worked together until LeCroy graduated high school in 2016, but never lost touch.

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Long after departing the program, LeCroy continued to meet with the Indians’ cheerleaders. Harper LeCroy, Chandler’s younger sister, joined the team a few years later, and Chandler played the role of judge. She’d sit in the gym with a notebook and analyze. She joked with Thornton once that she needed to retire so the duo could become GHSA-sanctioned judges.

“She was a friend to everyone,” Thornton said. “She was a go-getter, a mover, a shaker, a boss. She took charge in everything, and made sure it happened.”

LeCroy’s roots were buried in Toccoa. She never forgot where she came from, and kept in close touch with her beloved friends from Stephens County. On many occasions, she’d invite them to Athens. Her best friend, Hope Copelan, would visit on plenty of occasions, and they’d have a “grandparents day,” where they blew up an air mattress and watched movies while ordering food.

The last occasion before LeCroy’s passing made for a memory.

“The air mattress busted and started deflating during the middle of the movie,” Copelan said. “It was the funniest thing ever.”

Before the national championship parade, LeCroy reached her Toccoa-based crew and readied for a trip to her hometown Monday. She made plans with Copelan, and made a date with Thornton to visit the town’s new Chick-fil-A and watch the Stephens County basketball game.

They never expected it to be their last conversation.

“I’ll be saving her a seat at Chick-fil-A, and beside me at the game Tuesday night,” Thornton said.

‘WE NEED FIVE OF HER’

LeCroy always saw herself working in athletic administration.

Once arriving at Georgia to study sports management, she applied for an internship with about 300 other applicants. She was chosen as an Assistant Learning Specialist in Jan. 2020 in a role that would later turn into the football program’s Football Recruiting Analyst. Her ultimate goal was to become an athletic academic adviser, according to those who knew her. She joked with Thornton that she would be the next Brittany Wagner, the famed adviser in Last Chance U.

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“Had her life not been cut so short,” Thornton said. “I have no doubt that’s where she’d be.”

Once LeCroy joined the athletic department, she quickly caught the eye of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. He pointed to LeCroy in front of her boss with an emphatic claim.

“We need five of her,” Smart said as Thomason recalled.

From then on, LeCroy became a beloved figure within the Georgia program, to current players and prospective recruits. A transferring Georgia football player told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he saw LeCroy’s “gentle soul” in a task as simple as playing 1-on-1 spades. He had only played with partners, so LeCroy taught him how to master the new game style. LeCroy became a bit of a card master, and during fall practices, she’d battle the players in spades each day,

Recruits felt LeCroy’s influence hours before her death. KingJoseph Edwards, a 2024 prospect, attended Saturday’s parade festivities. He had issues with security at the gate, and LeCroy swooped in to rectify the situation and save Edwards’ day.

“She was kind, caring and always made sure I was comfortable,” Edwards told the AJC. “She was honestly a beam of light.”

Added Copelan: “She was so much more than what she seemed at the surface.”

LeCroy realized the depth of her attachment to Georgia during the team’s championship runs. A role in the recruiting department stretches beyond helping prospects. She had her own family within the team, and she found that with the coaches’ wives. LeCroy felt adopted by a crew of Bulldogs, and she remained close with the Smarts. The head coach’s daughter, Julia, frequently commented on LeCroy’s social media posts.

Smart said LeCroy brought an undeniable energy to the program. Her loved ones, especially Copelan, saw her tireless work from a first-hand perspective. When she wasn’t on the job, LeCroy could be found raving over her opportunity.

LeCroy was offered another job prior to the 2022 national title game, Thomason recalled, with better opportunity and higher pay. LeCroy turned it down, though, because she couldn’t leave Georgia.

“It was her world,” Copelan said. “She loved her team more than they will ever know.”

‘THE GLUE TO OUR FAMILY’

Harper saw plenty of mistaken people. She’d often get asked if Chandler was her mother. While not the case, it often could’ve been.

Harper went to Chandler first, before her parents. If she suffered an injury, she’d run to Chandler. If Harper needed advice on cheerleading or high school drama, her older sister would get the call. Chandler would answer with a hype message, no matter how much Harper cried or how badly she wanted to quit.

The LeCroys were family oriented in nearly every way. They stayed close together. They never missed a holiday, birthday or summer beach trip together. In every case, Chandler led the charge.

Chandler cleaned the dishes after Christmas dinner. She took care of ailing grandparents and provided support to those around them. She brought a boisterous, fun-loving personality to any event that always made for a memory. She had an admirable tenacity, even when she needed to be screamed at.

“She was my biggest role model,” Harper said. “She was the glue to our family.”

On Christy LeCroy’s side of the family, Chandler’s mother, there are 12 family members. Thomason’s father, who died two years ago after a bout with COVID-19, once had a large table crafted. He wanted to ensure everyone in the family could sit together at holidays and comfortably see one another.

A seat became empty with his death. As of Sunday morning, there’s another vacant chair.

“The table’s getting empty,” Thomason said. “We lost a brilliant light on this Earth.”