The anticipation of football season took a tragic turn Friday for the East Union Urchins.
Junior lineman TJ Hamblin, 17, drowned on a team trip to Iuka’s J.P. Coleman State Park.
“He was a wonderful kid, gentle giant,” East Union coach Kevin Walton said. “I’ve just never dealt with anything like this. Me and him were so, I don’t even know, I was like a dad to him. We were just close.”
Hamblin drowned around 6 p.m. His body was recovered approximately three hours later. The team had taken the swimming/fishing trip as a reward for hard work leading to the season. Practice is scheduled to begin Monday. The Urchins are scheduled to open the season on Aug. 21 at home vs. Falkner.
“We’re a family. We had a bond,” said teammate Chase Hall. “We still have a bond, but with TJ, it’s going to leave a place in our heart. It’s going to be hard to get through. But maybe it will give us motivation to keep working hard.”
Walton said Hamblin’s love for the school was immeasurable. He didn’t miss a workout and worked on the field for Walton, picking up rocks, spraying, weed-eating, whatever needed to be done.
“He would find ways to come up here and try to, I mean in the mornings I get to school at 8 o’clock and he would text me,” Walton said, “which I bawled all night long reading those texts, ‘Coach, I’m coming.’”
Now Hamblin won’t be coming out for Monday practice. Late Friday, family, friends, teammates and the Ellistown community rocked by the news gathered at the field house to console one another over a teenager who they say never had anything bad to say and never had anything bad said about him.
Hamblin, who stood 6-foot-2 and had worked to knock some 20 pounds off to get to 230, was part of East Union’s back-to-back state powerlifting championships. Walton said he was in the best shape he’d ever been in.
It happened quickly. Walton said the players were gathered together in one area and noticed he was missing in the maybe 15-20-feet deep water.
“I ran over there and they said, ‘We think he went under, coach.’ I dove over and over and over trying to find him but I couldn’t,” Walton said. “it was, I just couldn’t find him.
“I guarantee you couldn’t find anything bad to say against the boy, just a great kid. (The team) loved him very much.”
A funeral fund has been set up to help with expenses. Please donate at http://www.gofundme.com/2jd5scv6w.