One young man's pain is being felt by an entire school and it will likely linger for quite some time. When someone means as much to people as Jerome Dunbar does to South Aiken High School's football team and the rest of the student body, his heartache can't help but spill over to those around him.
Dunbar's life was changed forever when his mother, Sheryl Lloyd, was found stabbed to death in their home early Sunday morning.
Dunbar's former step-father, Willie Augustus Lloyd, has been charged in the incident, according to Capt. Michael Frank of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.
"I can't believe she's gone," said Dunbar, known for his trademark smile and sense of humor. "That night me and a bunch of friends took some pictures with her and now she's gone."
Friends and family gathered at the house of Will Durrett, a teammate, all day and night Sunday in support of Dunbar. The outpouring of emotional assistance has been immeasurable.
"Tons of people have been calling," said Durrett, one of the Thoroughbreds' leading tacklers. He means a lot to everybody. Everybody wants to do something special for him."
On the field, Dunbar and his South Aiken teammates are off to their best start since 1983 and are one win away from making it the best start in school history. The Thoroughbreds host Strom Thurmond High School this Friday at the Stomping Grounds with a chance to become the first South Aiken team to ever start a year 4-0.
The team will plant a tree somewhere on the way into the stadium in remembrance of Dunbar's mother. "We want something that will outlast us here," South Aiken coach Dan Pippin said. "All of us will leave here at some time, but the tree will last."
Also, a college fund will be set up for Dunbar. Donations to the Jerome Dunbar College Fund can be sent to South Aiken's athletic booster club at PO Box 5314, Aiken, SC, 29804.
"It's not a scholarship fund. That's going to take care of itself. But there's a lot of things that he's going to need," Pippin said.
Dunbar, who is being recruited by a number of mid-level major colleges among some Division I schools, has no intentions of watching from the sidelines against Strom Thurmond. Although he won't return to school until Wednesday, through his pain, Dunbar plans to put on his shoulder pads and helmet like he always does on a Friday night.
"My goal is to play Friday," said Dunbar, one of the top offensive linemen in the state. "I'm not going to miss a game. My mom would want me to play."
"He's going to turn all this negative energy into inspiration," Durrett said. "He's a real strong kid. He's very hurt, but he understands that everything in life happens for a reason. I've got a good feeling that he's going to play better than he ever has."
However, the outcome of a football game is just secondary right now, at least to the man in charge of the program.
"Our main concern is Jerome and his well-being,"Pippin said. "If we win, we win."
Dunbar has been an integral part of South Aiken's early season success. He is the leader of a veteran offensive front that has helped pave the way for the best running back in Aiken County statistically, Rashad Hunter.
Behind Dunbar and his teammates, Hunter has gained nearly 800 yards on the ground and scored seven touchdowns.
"I don't know what I would do if I didn't have football," Dunbar said. "I've got so many friends that are supporting me. I didn't know I had this much support. I honestly didn't."