Every August, high school football stars across the country say goodbye to their childhood friends and set out on their own to join a new school and new team. For four boys from Concord, Calif., however, a new life that didn't include the other three seemed inconceivable. Since they met as freshmen at De La Salle High, Jackie Bates, Cameron Colvin, Willie Glasper and Terrance Kelly had done most everything together, from eating meals to catching movies to winning every football game they played. So, when the foursome was recruited by the University of Oregon, no one was surprised to see them sign together, too.
Then, the inconceivable did happen. Late Thursday night, two days before the quartet was scheduled to make the trip to Eugene for their first official practice, Kelly, a linebacker who was the biggest, strongest and, by all accounts, quietest of the three, was killed in his hometown of Richmond, Calif. He had just pulled his car up to a house where he was going to pick up the son of his father's girlfriend when he was shot several times in the chest. The assailant is believed to have been on foot, but as of Monday evening, no one seemed to know for sure; Kelly, who was reserved by nature but rarely without his friends, was alone in the car at the time of his murder.
Richmond police had named two local teen brothers as suspects -- arresting one, 18-year-old Larry Pratcher, in connection with Kelly's slaying and charging him with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Darren Ray Pratcher, 15, was still at large on Monday. Earlier, police had pointed to a dispute between Kelly and one of two suspects during a recreational basketball game as a possible motive. Some friends and family members have shared speculations of their own. "You move out of the inner city, they think you're a sellout," Kelly's cousin Billy Dempsey told the Contra Costa Times. "That's pretty much the mentality of the hood."
Turns out, for a kid like Kelly, Oregon was more than a place where he could live with his best friends and play for a national audience. It offered an escape from a town permeated with violence and poverty. De La Salle, the academically and athletically dynamic parochial school located 30 minutes from the Richmond home where Kelly lived with his grandmother, was a place where the talented student-athlete learned he could strive without embarrassment or fear. Peaceful Eugene beckoned with more of the same.
"Eugene was going to change us, make us more laid back," Colvin said on Monday afternoon, while waiting to board the flight to Oregon. "We had talked about how we were going to room together, have so much fun playing together. It was our chance for a fresh start."
Have a question or comment for Kelley King? Submit it here.
When Kelly lost that chance last week, thousands of others lost out, too. De La Salle, which has suffered the deaths of one player and two former players in the past three years, lost an alumnus who inspired those around him with his work ethic on the field, where he stood out at both running back and linebacker last year. Oregon, whose players and staff have seen an estimated seven close friends or family members die between Dec. 2002 and this summer, have lost a defensive standout in what may have been its finest recruiting class ever.
"Terrance was, first of all, just a great kid who always did the right thing," said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who, as the brother of De La Salle assistant coach Joe, was active in Kelly's recruitment. "But also, as good a player as he was now, he hadn't even tapped his potential. The sky was the limit."
The same can be said for the other three Ducks from De La Salle, but reaching those heights is going to be tougher than ever without Kelly. For them, Kelly fulfilled several roles, including best friend, loyal teammate and comrade in life's next big step. Monday, minus one, they had all arrived on Oregon's campus. Tomorrow, they will return together to the Bay Area for Kelly's funeral. Then, it's time for practice -- and the rest of their lives -- to begin.
"Right now, they're struggling," Aliotti said after meeting with the two of the three players Monday night. "One minute they're energized with memories of Terrance, the next they're quiet, depressed. They're going to need a lot of support over the next few weeks."
Oregon opens its season against Indiana on Sept. 11. No matter where your allegiances lie, take a moment to cheer for Jackie, Cameron and Willie, and for the friend who deserved to be playing alongside of them.
Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Kelley King covers college football for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.