Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Noles Forced to Deal with Tragic Loss

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Noles Forced to Deal with Tragic Loss

Article excerpt

Nothing in his 21 years of teaching had prepared Tom Stuart for a moment like this. It evoked memories of the phone call he received at work in 1992 about his brother dying.

What made this worse is Stuart had to go from football coach to grief counselor in an instant.

John Lilly, the Florida State tight ends coach who recruited two of Stuart's former players at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugarland, Texas, was on the line. He called yesterday morning to inform Stuart that one of his players, FSU freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling, had collapsed and died immediately after a workout. Neither team trainer Randy Oravitz nor paramedics could revive Devaughn's heart.

Now, FSU's coaching staff went to work on healing the heart of Devaughn's twin brother, Devard, a Seminoles' wide receiver. Inside the emergency room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, a shaken Lilly handed the cellular phone to an 18-year-old kid overwhelmed by grief, hoping somehow that a familiar voice from back home could ease the burden of this inexplicable tragedy.

Stuart was still trembling two hours after that dreaded conversation. Not just at losing the only All-State player in the five-year history of the Austin High Bulldogs, but how terribly awkward he felt trying to comfort Devard in the worst moment of his life.

"Other than to keep his faith and letting him know that Devaughn would want him to go on and play hard, I didn't have any words of wisdom," Stuart said from his football office in Texas. "We're all still in shock. Devaughn was one of those kids who keeps you in coaching. You didn't have to worry about him or Devard doing something wrong when someone of authority isn't around. They had the highest integrity and character you can imagine.

"You try to ask why sometimes. I guess those questions are unanswered."

FSU might be the nation's top college football program, but it's no more emotionally equipped to make sense of this devastating loss than a Division I-A bottom feeder. …

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