A warm, September breeze drifted through the air. Bright lights shone on a small, makeshift stage on Jesse Rogers Promenade, illuminating a big, wooden number 24 and a banner with general business sophomore and cornerback Robert Grays, showing off his wide smile.
About 200 students, staff, faculty and teammates attended Grays’ candlelight vigil on Sept. 21, Kleenex and candles ready.
Grays died on Sept. 19 after a neck injury sustained at Saturday’s game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Born on Aug. 3, 1998 in Houston, Texas, Grays will be remembered by his smile, positive attitude and character.
“He was like my little brother,” Steven Rogers, business management senior, said. “We both played defensive back for the team, so I’m in the meeting room with him everyday — we pretty much did everything together.”
Rogers heard about the news of his teammate’s death at a team meeting held by their coaches.
“I just wanna say, I loved him like a little brother,” Rogers said.
He said he hopes to become closer with Grays’ family in the future.
“I wanna stay in contact. He was really like a little brother to me, so I’ll always remember Rob,” Rogers said.
University President Suzanne Shipley took the stage, sporting a maroon MSU football team polo and baseball cap.
“The miracle is we had Robert,” Suzanne Shipley, university president, said. “And the miracle I can give others is living those parts of his character that we’re going to be missing without him.”
Shipley also said that she wants to adopt Grays’ “passion, his love for other people, his love for family and community and his faith.” She wanted attendees to be a part of that miracle and honor Robert’s legacy.
Bill Maskill, head football coach, opened his words of reflection with thanks.
“I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, the bottom of the hearts of our football players, this campus and administration, we appreciate what we have here at Midwestern,” Maskill said.
While Maskill said there was not much that he could say that hadn’t already been said about Grays by previous speakers, he still added to the growing list of compliments about Grays.
“He’s a guy that loved life,” Maskill said. “I am proud of how the team and coaches have handled the situation of Grays’ injury and passing.”
Sir’Vell Ford, criminal justice junior and safety, thanked the crowd and spoke on the behalf of the football team. Ford shared with the crowd something he remembered saying during a team discussion on Grays’ situation.
“Why did this happen to him? He came out on this earth to do one job, and that’s to make everyone of us out here better. Even if you or didn’t know him,” Ford said.
Bob McCartney, pastor at First Baptist Church and chaplain for the football team, prayed with the vigil attendees.
“You can’t face death without hope. Rob had put his faith and his trust and his hope in a resurrected Jesus Christ. Rob did not lose,” McCartney said. “Rob won.”