“He turned down a couple of jobs because he wanted to find the right one,” his friend and former Broncos teammate Joe Kelly said. “He knew he could get a better job and he found one. He was always so positive in any situation he was in.”
Kelly and Gregory were part of a close-knit group of 12 former Broncos who have always stayed in touch. Kelly and three other teammates last hung out with Gregory on the Fourth of July weekend in Duluth. The get-together served as a belated birthday party for Gregory, whose birthday was June 9.
“He was full of excitement and energy as always,” Kelly said.
Not only was he considered a great friend, but also a great teammate. Though he wasn’t a starter, he was the kind of player every successful program needs in the locker room.
“He didn’t play a lot, but he was what you love about great teams,” said Broncos coach Philip Jones, who took over the program in 2015 but served as an assistant for Mark Crews when Gregory played. “He sold out to Brookwood football and committed to his teammates and coaches and they loved him. I loved having him around. He had a huge smile and was always joking.”
On July 13, Gregory started feeling ill and checked into Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins. He tested positive for COVID-19 and remained hospitalized. He kept in touch with friends and family via text message, as he wasn’t allowed visitors, per hospital COVID-19 protocols.
He texted the group of Broncos and said that he was in pain, but remained positive and was determined to ride out the virus.
“We were texting each other and expressing that we loved each other, so that was nice,” said Griffen Perkins, another of Gregory’s Broncos teammates.
During his first few days at Houston, Gregory was without a phone charger before his family sent him one. The battery died, and he could use only the hospital phone in his room to call and speak with Amber and his mother, Dawn Bristol. Though Amber and his mom drove to Warner Robins, they weren’t allowed to see him, so they talked at least once a day.
“At times he was feeling OK, others he wasn’t,” Amber said. “We kept telling him to take deep breaths, and I know he fought hard because that’s what he does — he fights for the people he loves.”
In Gregory’s final days, he was able to FaceTime with Amber and his mom, though it was hard for him to talk. They last spoke Saturday evening. That day, he began convalescent plasma treatment. The next day at 2:45 p.m., the hospital called his family to inform them that he died. He had no known pre-existing medical conditions, his sister said.
“As they went to put him on a ventilator, that’s when his oxygen dropped,” Amber said. “Then his heart gave out. Doctors worked on him for an hour before they called it off.”
For Amber, what she’ll miss the most are Gregory’s hugs. At 6-foot and hovering around 300 pounds, he would lift her in the air. She got that type of hug in May when she graduated from George Washington with a degree in environmental studies.
Amber passed the news onto Gregory’s friends, who were shocked and devastated.
“We were in the process of putting together a care package,” Kelly said. “We couldn’t believe it. Our group got on FaceTime, and we started sharing our memories about how he impacted our lives. It turned into a tear fest.”
Perkins will miss the random phone and FaceTime calls.
“He would call you out of nowhere,” Perkins said. “He’d be like, ‘Oh, sorry. I accidentally called you. Anyway, how are you doing?’ I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting since he passed, and that’s something I’m going to start implementing. I’m not going to let life get in the way. I’m going to reach out and call people. That’s who he was. He walked into a room and brought energy and his presence was felt.”
A GoFund Me account for Gregory’s family can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/22vancdbtc