A violent automobile crash that took the lifetime of Devin Willock, a standout soccer participant who simply final week gained the nationwide championship with the University of Georgia, has shocked the North Jersey soccer neighborhood and introduced again painful recollections of when his half-brother — additionally an impressive athlete — was killed in a automobile crash in 2009.
Willock was killed in Athens, Georgia, shortly earlier than 3 a.m. on Sunday whereas using as a passenger in a 2021 Ford Expedition that left the street and struck a number of timber and two utility poles, based on a press release by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. He was 20.
Georgia Bulldogs help workers member Chandler LeCroy, who was driving the SUV, was additionally killed.
Willock died on the scene of his accidents. LeCroy was taken to an space hospital, the place she was later pronounced lifeless.
Police mentioned a 21-year-old male passenger sustained minor accidents, and a 26-year-old feminine passenger critical accidents. “They are each in secure situation, and we are going to proceed to observe their standing with medical personnel,” UGA athletics mentioned in a press release.
The crash occurred some 12 hours after the Bulldogs celebrated their second straight nationwide title with a parade and an occasion in Sanford Stadium, the workforce’s on-campus venue.
Willock’s father, David Willock, mentioned he traveled to Athens for the festivities. After the celebration, he mentioned, the household, together with Devin, had dinner collectively at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant.
On Sunday afternoon, Willock mentioned he was “heartbroken” and nonetheless in shock.
“I can not consider it is actual,” he mentioned. “I’m nonetheless questioning if it is a film, or one thing. I simply can’t consider it.”
The elder Willock, a local of Antigua, recalled the eerie similarities between this weekend’s crash and the 2009 crash that claimed the lifetime of Willock’s half-brother, Jonathan Wheatley: They have been each 20 years previous and touring with a bunch once they misplaced their lives in early-morning crashes.
Wheatley, who lettered in soccer, basketball and monitor at New Milford High School earlier than going to Bergen Community College, was killed in a hit-and-run automobile crash on Sept. 5, 2009, after getting back from an evening in New York City with buddies.
Wheatley’s automobile was clipped by one other car on Route 4 in Englewood and was despatched veering into the divider after which the guardrail. Wheatley was ejected from the automobile and hospitalized with vital accidents. He died two weeks later.
“It was the identical actual approach — identical approach, identical age, identical the whole lot,” Willock mentioned in disbelief. “It’s actually exhausting.”
Willock mentioned he was happy with his son’s accomplishments on and off the sphere, and that Devin was “doing the whole lot proper.”
“You may reduce me, and I would not even bleed — I used to be so joyful,” Willock mentioned. “He wished to go additional. He wished to pursue a profession. He beloved the sport, and he wished to pursue it.”
UGA athletics mentioned in the assertion that the “complete Georgia household is devastated by the tragic lack of soccer student-athlete Devin Willock and soccer workers member Chandler LeCroy.”
“Devin and Chandler have been two particular individuals who meant a lot to the University of Georgia, our soccer program and our athletic division,” the college mentioned. “We ask that everybody hold their households in your prayers throughout this very troublesome time.”
Willock, who began taking part in the game in his hometown of New Milford with the Junior Football Knights and later for Paramus Catholic High School, was a third-year school participant who began at guard in two video games this season. He performed the previous two seasons after redshirting in 2020.
Greg Russo, the present head coach of the Paramus Catholic Paladins, mentioned he seen Willock as an “NFL lock.”
“This child was a fantastic child,” Russo mentioned. “Everyone at Paramus Catholic is de facto hurting — [Principal] Stephanie [Macaluso], all our VPs — as a result of he was round a lot and was a fantastic ambassador for the game and the varsity.”
New Milford Mayor Michael Putrino mentioned the Borough Hall gazebo can be illuminated Sunday night time in Willock’s reminiscence.
“Our neighborhood’s heartfelt ideas are with the Willock household,” Putrino mentioned. “We had the pleasure to observe Devin play in New Milford and observe his profession as a scholar athlete at Paramus Catholic and the University of Georgia. He was a younger man with an enormous smile and vivid future on and off the sphere. He shall be missed and remembered by many. Our prayers lengthen to the LeCroy household for his or her loss as properly.”
Willock, a 6-foot-7, 335-pound offensive lineman, was a redshirt sophomore. He played in every game this past season for the undefeated Bulldogs, who won the national title on Monday in a 65-7 rout of the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
In an interview with NorthJersey.com before the 2022 championship game, which Georgia also won, he spoke about his family, which had traveled to Indianapolis for the game.
“I have the best support, and that means the world to me,” Willock said last year. “At the end of the day, they hold the most weight in my heart.”
Bill Wilde was Willock’s head coach at New Milford High School. He said he was “absolutely devastated” to hear about his death. Wilde said he kept in touch with him after he transferred to Paramus Catholic.
“He was a gentle giant,” said Wilde, who retired from the sidelines after the Knights’ 2020 season. “We knew he was destined for great things.”
Preston Lawyer, who is Wilde’s cousin and the Knights’ former college-recruiting coordinator, said he was in shock at what happened. He had just interacted with Willock on Twitter, congratulating him for winning the national title.
“I got a response back early in the evening, thanking me,” said Lawyer, now the college-recruiting coordinator for Ramsey High School. “I’ve looked at that message a few times today. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. It just doesn’t seem real.”
Willock spent his first two seasons at New Milford, before transferring to Paramus Catholic. He became the center of one of North Jersey football most heartwarming moments in the last few years.
The Paladins were playing St. Joe’s in the 2019 Non-Public Group 4 playoffs and losing badly. Willock was still on the field with the Paladins when he got rolled up on and suffered a severe injury to his right leg.
After his injury, both teams and their cheerleaders formed a makeshift receiving line to wish Willock well as he was carted off the field and to the hospital, where he would undergo surgery.
Willock’s surgery was a success. He also took some time and changed his commitment from Penn State to Georgia, where he became an instant sensation. A Georgia fan site wrote about how he needed a rolling scooter to get round campus since he couldn’t put any weight on the leg on the time.
“Coming off the harm, it was actually virtually a blessing in disguise as a result of with COVID shutting the whole lot down. I used to be nonetheless in a position to go to bodily remedy and proceed to get wholesome,” Willock informed NorthJersey.com on the time. “Since then, I haven’t had any issues with the ankle or something.”
Before the 2022 championship recreation, Willock was assured and praised his teammates.
“I do know we’re going to do what we now have to do,” Willock mentioned a yr in the past. “We’re a well-connected group who performs for one another, and I’m excited for the chance to be one of the best in the nation.”
Staff Writer Darren Cooper and Marc Weizer, of the Athens Banner-Herald, contributed to this text.