By: Spencer Allen
August 19, 2016
BROOKS COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) -- In the Summer of 2013, the Brooks County Trojans had their eyes on a state championship.
A tight knit group -- on and off the field -- anchored by three young men.
But hopes were crushed and a football dream died when tragedy struck on the morning of July 9, 2013.
Jicarre Watkins, Johnnie Parker and Shawn Waters' lives were cut short when their car crashed into a tree.
"Losing those boys will never leave my heart," says Brooks County coach Maurice Freeman.
"I can hear Shawn saying, 'Come on, mom. Keep it together,'" says Tisha Waters Whitfield, Shawn's mother.
For her family, this football season has special meaning.
"One side of my heart is heavy because I miss my child every day every second of the day the other side of my heart is happy," Waters Whitfield says.
Shawn's younger brother, freshman Ernest Whitfield, now quarterbacks the defense as an inside linebacker -- the same position his brother Shawn played.
Ernest's teammates call him "Little Man."
"He means everything to me, he means the world he.... can't even get it out right now," Ernest says, fighting back tears.
Ernest wants to honor his big brother's memory by wearing the number 32.
"I want to fulfill my brothers shoes where he left off at, I want to step back in and finish it."
When Shawn and his teammates passed away, Coach Freeman made it clear, "We're not letting anybody wear the jerseys no more. It's done."
Coach Freeman kept the jerseys in his car and took them with him everywhere he went.
But when Ernest asked his coach to wear his brother's number, Coach Freeman was hesitant.
"I said you're not as tough as Shawn, you're not as mean as Shawn, you're not smart as Shawn. You're not Shawn. I don't want you to wear it," Coach Freeman said.
But the big heart in the "Little Man" won his coach over, and he ultimately rewarded him with the number.
To honor his brother, Ernest has plans for when he records his first sack.
"I might just do a little dance that we used to do," Ernest says with a laugh.