High School Sports

‘He’s there with us’: Devastating loss inspires Rock Hill, SC football team

On the morning of Aug. 9, Raseac Myles sat in the South Pointe gym with a blank stare.

He heard the hum of the air conditioner and the clicking sound as the double doors opened and closed. Every foot step echoed. Some of Myles’ football teammates, spread along the red and gray bleachers, were crying. Some were confused. No one knew what to say.

Myles hadn’t slept much. But with his teammates, his football coaches, South Pointe administrators and guidance counselors around him, that’s all he wanted to do: go home, sleep, wake up to a new day and learn this all had been a bad dream.

“That day,” Myles recalled, “was just quiet and long.”

He will always remember the day after Savion White died. White had been his friend and teammate.

The afternoon of Aug. 8, Myles remembers a Snapchat on his cell phone from White.

He and White grew up together.

To those who only saw White on Friday nights, he was a two-time football state champion, the team’s 170-pound outside linebacker and leading tackler as a senior who played bigger than he was.

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South Pointe’s Savion White (#21) dives for a tackle in 2018, his senior season. ANDY BURRISS Special to The Herald

But to Myles, and others on the team, White was more.

“He was like a brother,” South Pointe senior running back Quay Chambers said.

The Snapchat Myles saw on that Thursday night wasn’t alarming. It was a picture of White’s SUV full with stuff he’d soon unpack in his dorm at Newberry College. He was on scholarship to play football there.

Myles saw the Snapchat around 5 p.m.

“I’d seen the Snap he posted before it happened,” Myles said. “And I still got that. A lot of us screenshotted that (picture) because it was the last thing he posted that we saw.”

The next few hours were a blur. Myles remembers a phone call. He then remembers scrolling through social media, texting people, including White, but got no response.

Eventually, Myles learned it was true: White was in a car wreck. White and another person involved were killed.

White was 18 years old.

“Everything’s going to be fine…” Myles told himself that Aug. 9 morning, in that all-too quiet gym on that all-too long day.

“Just go to sleep, and wake up again.”

DeVonte Holloman, shown here during a spring practice, took up the mantle as South Pointe head coach in 2019. Bret McCormick Rock Hill

‘She just rooted for me’

Head coach DeVonte Holloman walked in front of his team.

He admitted he didn’t really know what to say. Holloman, the soft-spoken big man, who normally speaks through a disarming smile, held back tears.

He, too, had a day he’ll always remember. That day was Oct. 4, 2018.

Holloman, then the head football coach at Beaufort High School, was a spectator cheering on his junior varsity squad.

After graduating from South Pointe High School in 2009, Holloman played football three years at the University of South Carolina before being drafted and playing one season with the Dallas Cowboys.

And he was happy: It had taken time for him to adjust after retiring early due to a neck injury. He had spinal stenosis after going down in an NFL preseason game in 2014. He said he lost his love for the game after the injury.

But as the head coach of Beaufort, being around kids who played football with unqualified joy, Holloman’s love for the game returned.

He also was close to home.

His parents still lived in Rock Hill, a manageable drive away from his new home.

And his sister, Breelyn, who he was particularly close with, was a student at USC Beaufort.

“She would always stop by the house,” Holloman said. “She just rooted for me in everything I did. She understood that football was a part of my life, and you know, even after I was done playing, she knew that I still wanted to be a part of football somehow.”

Holloman said his sister was his No. 1 fan.

“She would come up and give me a hug after games, just like my wife and my kids do,” he said.

Breelyn Jeanai Holloman cheers on her brother, DeVonte, from the stands in Williams-Brice Stadium. Holloman played at USC from 2008-2012. DeVonte Holloman

To those who know him from his Friday, Saturday or Sunday night shows on the football field, Holloman, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker, is as formidable as they come. But Breelyn, notably blunt and goofy herself, could always handle her big brother.

For Holloman, his life was the way it should be. But that changed on that Oct. 4 night.

Before the game’s final whistle, Holloman received a text from his sister. She’d sent it to Holloman and their parents. Holloman described it as a goodbye letter — a mixture of compliments to the family, an expression of her depression that Holloman hadn’t really known of, and an insistence to live and move on without her.

At the end of the text message, she disclosed her location. Holloman said he read the text, ran to his car and drove. He called 911 to alert the police of a suicide attempt.

Holloman said he sped to the park. A team of medics was trying to revive his sister. But he was too late. She was gone.

Breelyn Jeanai Holloman was 18 years old. It was her birthday.

“Her message to me, before she did what she did, was just to keep going and keep being the person that I was becoming,” Holloman said.

“So I just live every day, man, trying to be the person she thought I could be, or thought I was.”

Breelyn, DeVonte and DeVonte’s daughter, Brooklyn, pose for a picture. DeVonte said his sister loved being an aunt to his daughter. DeVonte Holloman

Before South Pointe’s undefeated season, the region championship, the 4A playoffs, there was this moment, in the South Pointe gym — an acknowledgment of common pain and loss between this team and its coach.

In this moment, South Pointe emerged with plans to dedicate this season to White and those who knew him — in person, in spirit or in shared experience.

“I hate that I had to go through what I had to go through,” Holloman later said.

“But it prepared me to be there for them.”

‘Showed he cared’

He used his story tell them a few things:

He told them he made the mistake of coaching in the game the Friday after his sister died. He was trying to go on like everything was normal. It only made it worse, he said.

He told them of his reluctance to talk about his sister — about how even at the most casual of mentions, he’d deflect and change the topic. He said that too was a bad decision.

He told them he still questions why he went through what he did, why he was here and she was gone, and admitted he was still working through many of the questions that were indubitably consuming some of the kids in the crowd.

“You don’t know why,” Holloman said. “But then you get moments like the meeting, where you’re like, ‘OK, I kind of understand,’ but it still doesn’t negate the fact that you lost somebody you loved...”

“It’s tough anytime I talk about her. I’m getting put in these situations where I do have to talk about her, and to be able to talk about my experiences to the boys and give them (a guide). Hey this worked for me, this didn’t work for me — I think they appreciate it.”

Myles said they did.

“He was coming to us as a coach, and we admire him for that because he didn’t have to,” Myles said. “But he brought us all in there and explained the situation so everybody would understand why some players were grieving and feeling bad. And he was letting us know that we were all going to be there for each other.”

Holloman wrapped up his speech by pointing to the guidance counselors, principals, football coaches (himself included), who would listen if his players wanted to talk.

“Coach Holloman didn’t really know him at the time,” Chambers said. “But seeing how Coach Holloman took all the boys and showed us how much he cared when Savion passed, it showed a lot.”

After the meeting, Holloman decided that no one would wear No. 21, White’s old number. Instead, before each game, White’s old jersey would be carried out by a team member and placed on the team’s bench.

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Raseac Myles carries Savion White’s jersey out to the field prior to a South Pointe football game this season. Raseac Myles

Chambers writes “Long Live Savion” on the tape on his right wrist as he’s getting dressed. Myles sometimes sends White text messages and leaves him voicemails before games.

The team is sure White is watching.

“I truly believe he’s there with us,’” said defensive line coach Gerald Peak. He referenced a play in his team’s second game of the season, where a game-tying field goal kick was blocked but recovered by Kobe Shannon, who took it in for a touchdown. “That Rock Hill game, the play with Kobe? You can’t...that just can’t happen.”

(Immediately after that game, Coach Holloman told The Herald: “Somebody is looking over us.”)

The team (10-0, 5-0) ran the table through the regular season by virtue of a strong defensive line; a talented offense; and a memory of a rare loss prior to the state title game last year.

Still, there’s sadness.

A few weeks after that meeting, Myles said he was awake at 4 a.m. in his neighborhood, sitting on a curb outside of White’s house, wishing they could play basketball or ride bikes like they used to.

Coach Holloman said he misses his sister every day.

And those two aren’t the only ones that are missed. Chambers’ cousin, La’Quyan Rambert, died earlier this year in another car accident. Other players have lost family members this season. The school, as a whole, has lost several of its own this year.

“We’ve been dedicating the season to all of them this whole year, so it would feel bad if we went out without one...” Myles said, referring to a championship.

“I think the feeling of losing scares everybody.”

‘She’ll be with us here tonight’

On Oct. 4, a year after his sister passed away, Holloman stood in front of his team again — like he did in the gym several months earlier.

This time, the team was in a visitor’s locker room.

The Stallions were heading into what proved to be one of their toughest tests of the season. And it was loud.

“You gotta live for nights like these...” Holloman began as he paced the room. “Tonight, I need a favor from y’all, alright?”

His voice seemed to climb higher with every sentence. For a moment, his players were listening, hanging on to his every word. But after a few seconds, it felt like they didn’t need to anymore. They shared a common pain. A common language.

“It’s my sister’s birthday, man, and I’ve been kind of up and down emotionally all week. All I ask you to do is start fast. Start fast and do it the right way.

“She’s going to be here, and I want to show her what the f….. y’all been doing!”

“Yessir!” players and coaches yelled in the background.

“I’m not asking you to make nothing up,” he said. “I just ask you to play with a little bit of fire. A little bit of intensity... But it won’t just happen, we got to make (it) happen.”

He finished his speech and his team broke the huddle down with energy, screaming and chanting as they exited the locker room.

That night, South Pointe defeated Westwood, 30-21.

“I truly felt her there,” Holloman said. “I’m not saying we got lucky and won the game, but things happened that were in our favor.”

Come the end of the night — after the post game celebrations with his wife and kids on the field, after celebrating with his team in the locker room and on the bus ride home — Holloman walked to his car in the South Pointe parking lot.

He unlocked his small, two-door Kia. It was the car his sister used to drive. Breelyn’s glasses were on the armrest console. Her phone charger was still plugged in. Pictures of her and her friends remained in the glove compartment. Holloman hadn’t moved a thing.

Holloman climbed in the car, turned it on — “It crunked up a little louder and had a little more power than normal” — and just sat still for 10 or so minutes, processing one of the toughest years of his life. He was relieved.

“I felt like, that night,” Holloman said, “I made her proud.”

Holloman then drove home. As he turned out of the parking lot onto Neely Road, he thought about the person he’ll forever miss — assured that she was proud of him, wherever she was watching.

Alex Zietlow covers sports for The Herald, where he has been an editor and reporter since August 2019. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2019 and was a summer sports intern for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., prior to coming to Rock Hill.