It wasn't unusual for Rodney Hackney to see his star offensive tackle working out in the North Clayton High School gym.
But last Thursday was different, said Hackney, the school's head football coach. Eighteen-year-old senior Davin Redmond interrupted his workout to thank his coach.
"It was like he was telling me goodbye," Hackney told the AJC Monday night. "He gave me a big hug."
That night Redmond, "Big Kuntry" to friends and family, died mysteriously in his sleep. An autopsy has been ordered but the results won't be known for a few weeks, said his mother, LaTonya Brooks.
"I went in to wake him up and he wasn't breathing," Brooks told the AJC. She tried desperately to resuscitate her only son but received no response. "My baby was already gone."
Word spread quickly on the North Clayton campus. Redmond's teammates gathered in the school's cafeteria to pray while distraught teachers abandoned their lesson plans to join in the grieving.
"Once everyone found out you couldn't go on with classes," said Joshua Williams, close friends with Davin since grade school. "No one could believe it."
Brooks said her son was asthmatic, though he had not suffered an attack since his youth. Otherwise, his health was stout. Davin, 250 pounds at his death, played football without incident for eight years, and his talent had attracted interest from universities including Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, his mother said.
"He wanted to be a mathematician," she said. "I'd ask him, ‘are you sure?' but that's what he wanted to be."
Davin was a momma's boy, Brooks said, but man of the house as well -- a rock on which his mother and 11-year-old sister, Anaya, could rely. "He always took care of us."
His North Clayton Eagle teammates also knew they could depend on "Big Kuntry."
"He was someone who kept everything calm and peaceful," Hackney said. "Just a great all-around kid."
On Saturday his peers organized a memorial to Davin at a local skating rink, where a fundraiser had been scheduled for the school's band.
"When I got there I saw all those kids lined up outside, must have been over 100 of them," Brooks said. "On the count of three they all yelled ‘Big Kuntry.' It really meant a lot."
Another tribute is due Thursday, when Davin will receive the Coach's Award, given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the field, at North Clayton's annual football banquet. Brooks will accept the trophy on her son's behalf.
Saturday, she'll attend Davin's funeral.
"There wasn't a bad bone in his body," Brooks said from her College Park home, where many of Davin's teammates are keeping her company.
"We're here for Davin," said Williams, "just like he was there for us."
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