The best way to honor Devin Willock is to remember the way he lived.
Family and friends of Willock gathered for a public memorial service on Friday in his home state of New Jersey. As was the case last week in a private service in Georgia, many shared how he touched their lives.
“I don’t think we should think about him the way he died, we need to think about him the way he lived,” said John Whitehead, his high school coach at Paramus Catholic. “And man, that kid lived. He lived a great life. He was something every kid should aspire to be like.”
Willock’s family and friends said goodbye during a Celebration of Life service at The Community Baptist Church of Englewood, New Jersey. The Rev. Lester W. Taylor officiated the service in which coaches and teammates spoke of the loss and the impact of Willock.
Willock, the 20-year-old offensive lineman on Georgia’s football team, died in a single-car accident Jan. 15, hours after the Bulldogs celebrated their back-to-back national championships with a parade and ceremony. Georgia recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy, 24, also was killed in the accident. Teammate Warren McClendon and recruiting analyst Tory Bowles were in the vehicle and survived the accident.
Among those sharing memories of Willock during the service were Whitehead, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, offensive line coach Stacy Searels, teammates Sedrick Van Pran and Warren Ericson and team chaplain Thomas Settles.
Whitehead began with explaining the joy and positivity that Willock brought to each day. He remembered Willock’s early days at Paramus Catholic when he learned conditioning and showed his work ethic. He recalled Willock’s emphasis on his schoolwork, from a desire to take Advance Placement classes to always trying to push a “B” to an “A.”
Willock was uplifting, Whitehead said, and even in the difficult times, he maintained perspective.
“He never acted like a tough guy, but he was tough. He never acted like he was the most intelligent person in the room, but he probably was,” Whitehead said. “And he never acted like he was the best football player on the team. He didn’t care about that.
“He loved Georgia. He loved that football coach. He loved the players. He loved Athens. He loved that school. I talked to him right after the last game, briefly, and all he talked about was, ‘We’re going to go for a third one.’ That’s all he talked about. All he said. ‘We’re going for another one.’ He was that kind of a kid.”
Smart followed, agreeing with Whitehead and speaking glowingly of Willock. He remembered sitting two seats from Willock in every optional pregame chapel service. He couldn’t say enough about Willock’s influence throughout the program.
“He impacted my life, personally, but the beacon of light everybody speaks about, he lit up our entire organization and our entire building on a daily basis,” Smart said.
Smart stressed how “incredibly different” Willock was as a person. He remembered Willock taking a bus to Athens to attend a camp for one day as a recruit. Smart remembered how athletic Willock appeared for a 6-foot-7, 350-pound lineman.
Willock returned a second time, making another impression. He later took an official visit and earned a scholarship. “He knew what he wanted,” Smart said. “He wanted to go to the University of Georgia. … He loved that place. You saw it every day.”
Smart applauded Willock as a student, mentioning how “everybody in academics” has praised him. He described Willock as “intellectually curious.” He noted Willock saw Georgia as a pathway to learn, not just an opportunity to potentially make it to the NFL.
The coach lauded Willock’s impact on his teammates. Recently, Smart asked his team to think about ways they could memorialize Willock. He told the team that anyone who’d thought of a way to honor him should inform him.
“After the meeting, I had at least 30 guys standing in a line who wanted to represent, memorialize Devin in a certain way,” Smart said. “I had multiple guys call, reach out. He impacted them. He impacted all of us. What a special, special, special young man Devin Willock was.
“Bigger than his stature, as we all know who know Dev, is his heart. This guy’s heart was so big. He cared so much, treated everybody with respect all the time. You could coach a lifetime and never have a kid who did it right. … He did what he was supposed to do. He was always on time, always respectful. We love Dev.”
Searels, who’s coached for over three decades, called Willock “the nicest kid I have ever coached.” He mentioned Willock’s manners and constant respect. He recalled Willock always wanted to go against elite players such as defensive linemen Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Jalen Carter in practice because he knew it would help him improve.
After Searels shared stories about the offensive line’s unity, two of Willock’s teammates took the podium.
“When I think about Dev, I think of the word pride,” Van Pran said. “Just the pride he had in his family, friends, his community in New Jersey. … I just thank the family and the community in New Jersey for sending Devin to us, to allow him to be part of our brotherhood, because I don’t know where I’d be without Devin, genuinely.”
Van Pran remembered how he and Willock would tease each other about their hometowns, how Willock could keep things loose. He mentioned how Willock would make the most of every situation and always remembered that family was most important.
Ericson said teammates gravitated toward Willock. Just weeks ago, Willock helped Ericson move furniture up two flights of stairs. He always volunteered to help, be it a larger commitment or something simple like taking the trash out during a barbeque, Ericson said.
“I always thought his best qualities were kindness and love,” Ericson said. “He’d do anything for anyone.”
Ericson asked those attending to strive to be like Willock – ”Be Like Dev,” as Georgia players and coaches have coined it – to maintain a positive attitude even in tough times, to continue working consistently, to have a relationship with God, and to be welcoming and caring for others like he was.
“Do all these things so Devin’s legacy will live on, because it’s up to us to carry it on,” he said.
Settles read thoughts from Willock’s mother, Sharlene. He addressed friends and family and led the church in prayer before the service closed. Some of Willock’s teammates were pallbearers.
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Credit: Channel 2 Action News