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That's all long gone. "Now," says Wright, in his first season as Lower Richland's coach, "it's just a matter of trying to rebuild."
The Diamond Hornets played for the state title in 1991, but that was their last great team. They won only one game last season. And in August they were dealt the most devastating blow imaginable. Shortly after practice, a 15-year-old freshman named Darryl Cornish collapsed on the way to his mother's car. Firemen from the station across the road got there as quickly as they could, but it didn't matter. The autopsy showed that Cornish died of heatstroke complicated by an enlargement of his heart. "He was showered and dressed," says Wright, picking his words as though they might shatter as he spoke them. "He fell, right there, right in front of me."
Darryl's number was retired before the first game of the season, in which Lower Richland beat Dreher 19--13. It was the Diamond Hornets' first win in more than a year. A few weeks before the game Richard Seymour had come down and spoken to them. "It was important for these guys to see him," Wright says, "and to know that he'd walked these halls and that if they have dreams, they have to persevere. I think the team pulled together well. We've had a lot of near misses where we could have turned a corner and didn't."
The team bus rolls out of the parking lot behind the field just as dusk begins to fall. Darryl Cornish's number stays behind.
It all starts with education, and with the days when separate was most assuredly not equal. Back then the black families in Richland sent their children to Hopkins High School, where they ran into Mr. William Manning Seymour. He taught all of them math and science whether they wanted to learn it or not.
Seymour even taught his own grandson, Richard, a high-spirited youngster who would marry a schoolmate named Deborah Wider. In 1979 they had a boy whom they named Richard Vershaun Manning, after his grandfather and great-grandfather. Deborah remembers her only son as a gentle child who was born at 10 pounds and never stopped gaining. In fact, by the time he wanted to play football, Richard was too heavy for his age group and too young to play with kids his size.
"I really wanted to play because my father and all my uncles had played," Seymour recalls, "but I couldn't play until my ninth-grade year." He played basketball and even took up karate for a while. Mostly, though, he stuck with his parents. Even though his father and mother separated when Richard was in grade school, they made it a point to be around together. Richard and his father grew inseparable. In the summer Richard worked for his father's construction business.
When he got to Lower Richland in 1992, he was still chubby, but during his sophomore year he sprouted up and was finally ready to play football for the Diamond Hornets, who were at the beginning of the long post-Mooney slide. "We didn't have a very good record when I was there," Seymour says, "but just to go there, you know? Friday nights at the stadium were such a big deal."
No matter how the team was playing, Mary Kirkland, who'd learned her math and science from William Seymour and who was now the assistant principal of Lower Richland, always was at the games. She became particularly fond of the great-grandson of her old teacher. "Young Richard was very studious and focused," she recalls. She also remembers how close Richard was to his parents, how his father and mother came to the games together and how more than a few people thought they were still married.
Richard became a star his senior year and played well in the annual Shrine Bowl between teams of graduating players from North and South Carolina. His father handled the college recruiters who came to call. The two Seymours became most fond of Rodney Garner, a former Arena Football League player who was Georgia's defensive line coach. For his part Garner was amazed by the closeness of the father and son. "I've never seen a relationship like that between a young man and his father," he says. "I never had that kind of relationship. Tell you the truth, I was a little envious."