Ahmaud Arbery was a special player.
“He was one of those unforgettable football players,” his Brunswick High School football coach Jason Vaughn tells Deadspin. “Just always joking, just like a real leader on the football team, and the locker room.
“He had the biggest heart.”
And he was chiseled “like a Greek god,” says Vaughn.
Arbery played linebacker for Vaughn, with good friend Akeem Baker right by his side.
“Ahmaud was dedicated. He gave his all,” says Baker. “He always went 110 percent. He may have been undersized for his position but he does have the biggest heart.”
Ahmaud Arbery — the young man close friends called “Maud,” others “Ques,” short for Marques, his middle name — was shot and killed while out for a run by two white men back in February.
“Ahmaud was my sandlot brother, we grew up in the sandlot together. He was always there for me,” says Walker.
And while Arbery loved football, perhaps the only sport he enjoyed more was running. Both Akeem and Coach Vaughn remember how much running was a part of his life.
“When he was bored, or when he had things on his mind. He’d just go for a run,” says Baker.
He’d run the Sidney Lanier Bridge, the longest bridge in Georgia, that spans the Brunswick River often.
“Ahmaud and I, we actually used to run together,” says Baker. “That’s a good-sized bridge that a lot of folks run. We used to run the bridge like in the heat of the day.”
“I just want people to understand he was an avid runner just like any other athlete,” says Vaughn, “Everybody in the community knows him as being a runner. He’d run the neighborhood, stop and play basketball with the kids, and long after the kids get tired, Maud will keep going on his run. Morning, afternoon, night, if it was pouring down rain, Maud was going to be running.”
Says Vaughn, “That’s why so many runners relate to this story because he was going out for a run, staying in shape. And everybody in the community knew that he was a runner. That became his passion, that became his clarity in life.”
Brunswick High School in Glynn County, Ga., currently has three active NFL players in Darius Slay, Justin Coleman and Tracy Walker, Arbery’s cousin, the two played on the same high school team.
“He was a beautiful soul,” Tracy Walker told ESPN earlier this week. “He wasn’t a hateful person. He was not. I can’t name one person he had a beef with growing up. Everybody loved Ahmaud because he was just a clown, a funny guy.”
Walker plans to write Arbery’s initials on his cleats when the NFL resumes and, coincidentally, he already wears Arbery’s high school number “21.”
Why 21? Sean Taylor.
“Every time I went to his house to hang out with him, we would just watch old highlights of Sean Taylor,” says Baker. “He was in awe of every play. That was just his idol. He wore 21 in high school to honor Sean Taylor’s name.”
Taylor played for the NFL’s Washington D.C. football team before being shot and killed by burglars in 2007. Taylor was only 24. Arbery was just 25 when he was gunned down in the middle of a street in broad daylight.
Maud was also a big LeBron James fan, too.
“Especially when LeBron went to the Heat because he was also a fan of Dwyane Wade,” says Baker.
The sentiment was echoed by Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper. “He loves LeBron James. He loved Kobe. He loved football.”
For his part, LeBron was one of the first high-profile athletes to express public outrage and disgust with Arbery’s murder. For many, the initial two-month refusal by police to arrest all of Arbery’s killers was reminiscent of Trayvon Martin, whose killing in 2012 reignited a wave of athlete activism, including LeBron.
Anquan Boldin and the Player’s Coalition have urged Attorney General Barrto have the FBI and the Department of Justice investigate Arbery’s death. The letter was signed by 64 sports figures with the most surprising coming in the form of Tom Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
The letter contends that Arbery’s “only crime was running while Black.”
Vaughn and Walker also have passion and clarity in their own purpose. As part of their #IRunWithMaud campaignto get accountability for Arbery, people across the country are running 2.23 miles in honor of Aubrey, symbolic of the day and month he was killed.
Vaughn is also pushing for an “Ahmaud Arbery Law” to bring hate crime legislation to Georgia, one of only four states (along with Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming) without it. Georgia’s hate crime statute was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004. And Akeem says William “Roddie” Bryan the man who filmed the shooting “should have been arrested yesterday”.
While pleased that the mass uprising in activism helped force the arrest of Gregory and Travis McMichael, Akeem Baker says he has “guarded optimism” for the prospect of accountability for Arbery’s murder, but says it will take the same type of energy that produced the arrests.
“We will need the same determination as Maud had when he was running.”