The University of Georgia’s elation from winning a consecutive national college football championship on Jan. 9 was deflated only days later when one of its most popular players lost his life in a tragic accident.
On Sunday morning, UGA’s offensive lineman Devin Willock and staff football recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy died in a single-car crash. Two others in the vehicle, offensive lineman Warren McClendon and recruiting staffer Tory Bowles, suffered injuries but survived.
An Athens-Clarke County Police report stated that the car "was traveling southbound in the outside lane of Barnett Shoals Road when the vehicle left the roadway, striking two power poles and several trees," according to CBS Sports.
Willock, 20, died at the scene, the report stated. LeCroy, 24, died from her injuries at a local hospital.
"We are all heartbroken and devastated with the loss of Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy," Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said in a statement.
Smart called Willock "an outstanding young man in every way. He was always smiling, was a great teammate and a joy to coach.”
Here are three things to know about the college sophomore whose character is widely praised.
1. Gentle giant
On the day before his fatal accident, Willock thrilled a young Bulldogs fan, 7-year-old Camdyn Gonzales, when he posed with him for a photograph and let him try on his national championship ring at a local Texas Roadhouse restaurant. Camdyn’s grandfather, Sam Kramer, shared the picture on Twitter, which received more than 6.2 million views on the social media platform.
“He was just an awesome, gentle giant,” Kramer told the Athens Banner-Herald. “An offensive lineman, 300-plus pounds, his ring was just enormous. He was talking to Camdyn for a while and finally took the ring off and he was like, ‘Hey, here you go. Try it on. See how it looks like on you.’ His eyes lit up. We call kind of lit up and that’s when the phone came out.”
2. Athlete and scholar
The 6-foot-7, 335 pound New Millford, N.J., native was a redshirt sophomore, according to his UGA bio. He majored in risk management and insurance at UGA and played all 13 games for the Bulldogs’ 2022 season. In the 2020-21 season, Willock was named to the First-Year Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.
Georgia beat Penn State in their recruitment battle for Willock, who played his last two high school seasons at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, the Banner-Herald reported. Willock was an honor roll student who spent a lot of time in the library.
“He was probably the single nicest kid I’ve ever coached,” Willock’s high school coach John Whitehead told the Banner-Herald. “He’s just a great kid. I know a lot of coaches say that. All those cliches, but he was as closest to being perfect as I’ve ever had. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. All the coaches liked him. All the teachers liked him.”
3. Family previously experienced a similar tragedy
Willock was the son of Caribbean immigrant parents who tragically lost an older son, also a student athlete, to a car crash, NorthJersey.com reports.
In 2009, a car crash took the life of Jonathan Wheatley, Devin Willock’s 20-year-old half-brother. Wheatley, a lettered football, basketball and track star at New Milford High School, was traveling with a group when struck in a hit-and-run crash.
David Willock, Devin’s father, traveled to Athens, Ga. to celebrate the Bulldogs’ national title with his son. About 12 hours before the crash, David Willock and other family members were with Devin at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant for dinner.
"I can't believe it's real," David Willock, an Antigua native, told the news outlet. "I'm still wondering if it's a movie, or something. I just can't believe it."
David Willock said Devin was “doing everything right” in his life, which made him proud.
"You could cut me, and I wouldn't even bleed — I was so happy," David Willock said. "He wanted to go further. He wanted to pursue a career. He loved the game, and he wanted to pursue it."