Three years ago this week, James Eunice drowned while duck hunting at Ocean Pond, a 525-acre former sink hole a dozen miles south of Valdosta. Like seemingly thousands and thousands of others, I loved James. A senior, he played sporadically the year I spent down there, but nobody loved being a Valdosta Wildcat more. One of his last Facebook posts, the day after New Year’s: “Miss Bazemore-Hyder’s lights.”
James appears in “Must Win” about as sporadically as he played, yet always just as memorably. I’ve often told his remarkable parents, Tammy Allbritton Eunice and John L. Eunice, whom I revere and idolize (and love), that my favorite passage in the entire book is a throwaway scene, near the end of the season before a meaningless practice, as James walked from the locker room to the field with teammate Dashay March. I re-read that passage several times a week, and smile to myself every time. I know he would’ve gotten the biggest bang out of it. To you, James:
James Eunice, an air force baby home-schooled until ninth grade and owner of the team’s highest GPA, walked out with Dashay, whose own grades were slipping and already threatening his graduation. This deep into the season, even conversations between polar opposites like these – blond God-squad yell leader and tatted street-cool icon – were loose and easy and anything-goes.
“I had a dream about you the other night,” Eunice told Dashay as their cleats click-clacked down the sidewalk.
Dashay shot him a crooked look.
“I had a big bag of weed on me and I was scared to death,” Eunice went on in his endearingly earnest way. “So I called you. And I sold it to you… That’s all I remember.”
Dashay didn’t say a word. Just lowered his head and let out a deep, booming belly laugh.
“Honest!” Eunice insisted as Dashay jogged off ahead.