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Hundreds mourn Durant High athlete killed at Brandon gas station

PLANT CITY — Many remembered Durant High School football player Grover Wills, 18, for his talent on the field, but almost as many remembered his penchant for bursting into dance and song.

After practice or on team trips, Wills would mesmerize those around him.

"He had such an amazing voice," said Mike Bradley, an assistant coach and English teacher at Durant. "He used to take us to church with his voice."

But the songs Wills used to sing are now sad reminders of the senior who was set to graduate on May 22.

Hundreds of parents, students and teachers filled the Durant football field Wednesday night for a candle light vigil to remember Wills, who was shot and killed Sunday at a Brandon gas station. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office questioned a man but no one has been charged.

Durant High School football player shot to death at Brandon gas station

Part of the ceremony included Jada Fullwood, a friend of Wills, singing A Change is Gonna Come, a 60s R&B classic he liked. Fullwood paused midway through, and the performance brought sobs from the crowd.

Durant’s student government association organized the event and made T-shirts with Wills number on the back. The front read, "Fly high number 5."

About two dozen of Wills family attended, including his father, Grover Joe Wills, the teen’s mother, Tywonsly Kerney, and her husband, Travis Jones.

"He was really loved," Jones said as he gestured toward the hundreds who attended. "There is a lot of love for him. I have never seen anything like this."

The student president, Alexia Nyiri, 18, said that she hoped the tragedy would bring the school and Wills’ family closer together.

"We can’t imagine what you are going through," Nyiri said to Wills family. "I hope God watches over you. You may have lost a son but you have gained 2,000 sons and daughters who are living in honor of Grover."

Wills, a corner back and free safety for the Cougars, had hopes of playing football in college, said Mike Gottman, head coach at Durant for nearly 15 years. Wills had planned to visit the University of Pikeville in Kentucky and made a highlight video, Gottman said.

"He was so happy go lucky and a pleasure to coach," Gottman said. "I can’t tell you a time he talked back or was disrespectful. He was a friend and a brother to us all."

Gottman said the school was going to frame Wills’ jersey and put it in the field house.

Many of Wills’s teammates spoke during the vigil. Senior Jordan Clark, 17, said he could never stay mad at Wills.

Almost a year ago, Wills borrowed Clark’s gym shorts and promised he would give them back, Clark said. He saw Wills wearing those shorts last week.

"I said while laughing at him ‘When am I going to get my shorts back?’" Clark recalled. "He said, ‘I got your pair at the house, these are my pair.’ He was something else."

At the start of the vigil, the football team marched on the field carrying white carnations. One at time, they handed the flowers to Wills’ mother and hugged her.

After the sun set, the hundreds of attendees lit candles and formed a circle around Wills family who stood at the center of the Durant football field.

Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or [email protected] Follow @jonathancapriel.

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