Georgia players say Devin Willock ‘will never leave our minds’

Georgia offensive lineman Tate Ratledge points to a "DW" tattoo on the inside of his right wrist. Those are the initials of his former teammate, Devin Willock, who died in a car crash on Jan. 15. (Chip Towers/ctowers@ajc.com)

Credit: Chip Towers

Credit: Chip Towers

Georgia offensive lineman Tate Ratledge points to a "DW" tattoo on the inside of his right wrist. Those are the initials of his former teammate, Devin Willock, who died in a car crash on Jan. 15. (Chip Towers/ctowers@ajc.com)

ATHENS – A large portrait of Devin Willock now hangs in the offensive line meeting room at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex. Georgia offensive lineman Tate Ratledge has a tattoo of Willock’s initials on the inside of his right wrist that he looks at every day.

It has been 68 days since the Bulldogs lost their teammate and a football staff member in a tragic car crash hours after the national championship parade, but Willock’s memory – and that night – remain fresh on many players’ minds.

“That’s something that will never leave our minds,” said Ratledge, who split time at right guard with Willock the past two seasons. “He’s one of our brothers, one of our best friends. We’ve got a picture of him in the offensive line meeting room now. I’ve got this tattoo on my wrist for him. It’s something that’s just always going to come about.”

In the case of Smael Mondon and fellow linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, they were among the last Georgia players to see Willock alive. fAfter the accident, Dumas-Johnson’s Dodge Charger -- in which Mondon was a passenger -- was parked perpendicular across the two southeast-bound lanes of Barnett Shoals Road where driver Chandler Lecroy lost control of the Ford Expedition she was driving at more than 100 miles per hour on Jan. 15. Mondon and Dumas-Johnson remained on the scene after emergency responders arrived, conferred with teammate Warren McClendon, who survived the crash, and were interviewed by police at the site, according to police body-cam video and reports.

They also watched as Lecroy and fellow recruiting analyst Tory Bowles were extricated from the vehicle and rushed to Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital. Willock, who had been ejected, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“It just shows you how short life can be and how quick things can go from being up high to down low,” Mondon said after Georgia’s football practice Thursday. “So, we’re just cherishing every moment with our brothers. Never forget to tell somebody you love them, even if it sounds corny. It sounds kind of weird saying, ‘hey, I love you,’ but you never know when it’s going to be the last time you talk to somebody.”

Around 2:45 a.m. on Jan. 15, Mondon and Dumas-Johnson were in a column of cars that were following Lecroy and Georgia football star Jalen Carter from downtown Athens to an East Athens Waffle House location. The ensuing police investigation determined that Carter was close enough to the Expedition that the power lines that fell when it left the roadway damaged his vehicle. Carter was sentenced by a judge on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing on March 16 after pleading no contest.

Dumas-Johnson and Mondon weren’t far behind. They told police they pulled off Barnett Shoals into Ikon Apartments, just down the hill from crash site. Almost immediately, they said Carter called to tell them there had been a wreck and they quickly drove to the site. They were there by the time police arrived.

It’s uncertain whether any other charges will be forthcoming. Dumas-Johnson was eventually charged with racing and reckless driving, but from an unrelated incident. His car was identified as one that eluded police officers on Jan. 10 on College Station Road.

Asked what he’ll take away from the experience, Mondon said: “Really just cherish your moments and making memories with your brothers and your friends and not taking nothing for granted.”

In the meantime, Georgia football continues. The Bulldogs are still having to practice and getting ready for the 2023 season.

Willock would have been a major part of those preparations. Instead, redshirt sophomores Dylan Fairchild and Micah Morris are sharing reps with Ratledge at right guard.

“We see him every day,” Ratledge said of Willock. “When we’re watching plays (on video), we see him there. We always see him there. So, we know he’s always there with us and taking care of us.”

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