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Communities unite in honor of Dylan

As the family of Dylan Thomas, a 16-year-old star linebacker who died after being injured at the Pirates Sept. 28 game, gathered to lay him to rest last week, thousands stood by them, showing support in various ways. ’This is what community is about. This is what love looks like,’ said lead pastor Stephen Dervan of Oak Hill Baptist Church as a sea of red jerseys filled most of the church’s auditorium and almost every single seat was filled. Behind him were 23 jerseys, signed by fellow football players from across the state and even beyond state lines. ‘These #32 jerseys, retired and signed by hundreds of football players is a beautiful thing,’ he said. The entire Peach County High School team and their cheerleaders were present as were many athletes from local teams. Several Pirates team members stood up to speak about Dylan’s impact on them personally and on the team. ’He never failed to put a smile on anybody’s face. He was always up to fish, hunt, be with friends or play Call of Duty. Dylan’s family treated all of us like their own. We appreciate surrounding counties for honoring our #32. On the field we might be opponents but we are one big family and you don’t know how much this means to us,’ said Pike County High School Junior Dawson Hubbard. ‘I’d like to thank our coaches. I know you would never put us in a situation that would put us in danger. That Friday, I think we all asked ourselves if we could ever play this sport again. Dylan would want us to keep playing, to keep fighting. Dylan would want us to stay strong, not just strong, but DylanStrong.’ Coach Brad Webber told about the special bond they had since Dylan and his son Walker were close friends. Webber coached for the University of Miami for many years – earning two National Championship rings – and he said Dylan was one of the only Miami fans in the area. ’We’ve all shed a lot of tears this week. What an incredible young man Dylan was. He just had a happy soul,’ said coach Webber. ‘I never heard him say anything bad about anyone and I saw him open the door for his girlfriend. But he was an absolute tenacious warrior on the football field and he was going to give everything he had on every play. It didn’t matter to Dylan if he was playing on special teams, offense or defense – you better look out for #32. It didn’t matter how big you were or what grade you were in, he was going to hit you with all he had, even in practice. It was truly and honor and a blessing to have coached him and have known him. He will live in all of our hearts forever and ever. Where are you going to spend your forever and ever?’ Coach Webber said Dylan was saved two weeks before his death and about 15 people had already been saved after his death. He told the crowd that in the eternal game, they would be either 1-0 or 0-1 and begged them to make a decision about accepting Jesus as savior. Three football players went to the front after he spoke and everyone stood to applaud his message. Dr. David Couch, a pastor from Carrolton who at one time lived across the street from the Thomas family and officiated at Darren and Shannon’s wedding, spoke about Dylan and his legacy. He also shared a note that Dylan’s mother had written about the fateful day of his injury. She said it started just like any other day, with her asking Dylan if he had everything for the game and him saying, ‘I got this mom.’ She said through all the tragedy of what happened to her son, she knew God was behind it and was the reason for all the love the family has felt. ’Our faith has been restored,’ said the note. ‘We hope and pray that other people find their way back to the Lord as we have.’ Schools who honored Dylan by wearing red or signing #32 jerseys included Georgia Tech football, the Lamar County Trojans, the Spalding County Jaguars, the Griffin High Bears, the Peach County Trojans, the Jackson High School Red Devils, the East Coweta Indians, the CrossPointe Christian Academy Cavaliers, the Manchester High School Blue Devils, the Upson-Lee Knights and middle school Knights, Ola High School and Ola Middle School, the Skipstone Academy Warriors, the Rock Springs Christian Academy Eagles, the Westside High School Seminoles, the Flint River Academy Wildcats, Strong Rock Christian Academy, Griffin Christian High School Crusaders, Locust Grove High School Wildcats. the Jones County school system from Pre-K to high school, all the Bibb County schools, the Southwest High School Patriots, the Whitewater High School Wildcats, the Brooks County High School Trojans, the Terrell Academy Eagles in Dawson, the Perry High School Panthers, North Hardin High School of Kentucky, the Marion County Eagles and the Bloom Carroll Bulldogs in Ohio. See Dylan’s obituary on page 5A.

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