What little happiness his younger sister Aaliyah got to enjoy in this world, Jerry Jeudy, one of the nation’s premier high school football talents, often played a big role in it.
“She really couldn’t talk or walk, had these tubes in her to help her breathe, but he would tickle her and she would laugh because she knew who he was,” said Deerfield Beach linebacker Brion Byrd, his closest friend who often accompanied Jeudy to the hospital or at his home when he would hang out with his 7-year-old sister.
“He would say ‘Hi,’ talk to her, make her laugh and she would be smiling and stuff. His world, that’s who he does it for. That’s who really keeps him going.”
Last week, moments after the Bucks (10-2) clinched the first trip to the state semifinals in nine years with a 28-21 win over Delray Beach Atlantic in the regional final, Jeudy’s joy quickly turned to tears when his older brother, Terry, informed him Aaliyah, the miracle baby who had fought so hard for so long just to breathe, had passed away.
“I love you sis, you in a better place now,” Jeudy wrote on Twitter. “I swear I’m going to make it for you and mommy. #RipAaliyah”
Other than a couple of tweets, Jeudy, a 6-1, 177-pound, five-star receiver committed to the University of Alabama, has kept to himself this week, preferring not to talk about the pain he and his family are dealing with.
But with the Bucks set to host Southridge (10-2) in the Class 8A state semifinals Friday night, his teammates and coaches are speaking for him, rallying around him and promising their best player will be ready to try and lead their program to their first state finals appearance since 2005.
“First and foremost we had to give him his space,” Bucks coach Jevon Glenn said. “Everyone grieves differently. So we gave him his space, but let him know we’re here for him. Luckily, what we’ve created here with the bonds with his family, he finds solace being here with his brothers, being here with Beach Boy family.
“He took it pretty hard, very, very hard actually. But as the week has gone on and he’s gotten into his routine, being around the guys and sitting in here with me during his online class, he’s gotten back to the norm for him. I’m quite sure his heart is still heavy, but he knows he’s got us and he’s leaning on his teammates right now and I think that’s what’s helped him.”
He took it pretty hard, very, very hard actually. But as the week has gone on and he’s gotten into his routine, being around the guys and sitting in here with me during his online class, he’s gotten back to the norm for him. I’m quite sure his heart is still heavy, but he knows he’s got us and he’s leaning on his teammates right now and I think that’s what’s helped him.
Jevon Glenn, Deerfield Beach football coach
Glenn initially told Jeudy it would be better for him to take a few days off from school and grieve, but Jeudy insisted on being at practice Monday and was. He has practiced with his teammates all week.
Wednesday, when the team had its weekly meeting with a sports psychologist from nearby Florida Atlantic University — something Glenn implemented at the start of the season — Jeudy attended, but the subject of his sister’s passing wasn’t discussed.
Glenn, though, believes the weekly meetings have brought his team closer together this season, and without them Jeudy might not have had the strength to be around his teammates during such a tough time.
“We have a bunch of kids that come from different backgrounds, and sometimes kids play through a whole season and not really know the guy next to him,” he said. “We have guys that have parents who are deceased or have a tough living situation. These meetings have built chemistry and camaraderie, a real brotherhood. When we have a situation like Jerry’s now he knows these guys and he knows these guys know him. So now it’s like his brothers and they have an extended family and they can become a support system.”
Jeudy has had as good a season as any player in the country. He leads the Bucks with 68 catches for 975 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But since the playoffs began he has also been playing cornerback. He already has two interceptions in three games, including the game-clinching pick-6 in the win over defending state champion Flanagan two weeks ago. Last week, he returned a blocked punt 31 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent,” said Glenn, who has been on the Bucks coaching staff since Denard Robinson starred for them at quarterback back in 2007. “In my mind he’s the player of the year in South Florida. He has a chance to be the state player of the year if we finish it off and win it all.”
And his teammates believe he will. Even with Aaliyah’s funeral set for Saturday, Byrd said Jeudy is as focused as he has ever seen him.
“Southridge really should be worried,” Byrd said. “He’s probably going to have the biggest game of his life Friday.”