A dozen yellow roses lay at the Griffon statue’s rain-soaked feet outside Zable Stadium in Williamsburg Monday, just days after Tribe student and football player Nate Evans was gunned down in Norfolk on Thursday.
“We’re gathered here tonight to remember, to celebrate and to grieve Nate Evans,” William and Mary campus minister the Rev. Max Blalock said before the crowd of hundreds of students, staffers and family. “We know that together, we can find strength enough to hope, courage enough to grieve, and compassion enough to see one another through together.”
The vigil to honor Evans life was scheduled to be held on the football field where the 19-year-old sophmore made a name for himself as a competitive ballplayer, but the venue shifted to the Kaplan Arena as the rain continued to fall.
Before Blalock spoke, students filtered into the stadium in a solemn procession; they wrote notes of support to the family and made their way to the vigil.
Led by senior assistant athletics director Pete Clawson, the football team marched in and took their reserved seats.
The entire mass of students stood and watched as Evans’s family and loved ones were walked to their seats, supported by William and Mary staffers and each other.
Then Blalock took the podium and asked the assembly to pray with him. Nearly everyone bowed their heads and kept their eyes shut as Blalock asked for God to endow the crowd with the same spirit Evans had in life: compassion, competitiveness and philanthropy.
College President Katherine Rowe, visibly shaken, stood before the mass of crying students and family and urged them all to seek help during the grieving process if they needed it.
“We will help you, we together will help you,” Rowe said. “We are one Tribe, and one family, always.”
Athletic Director Samantha Huge decried the loss of Evans and said there were simply no words to describe the phone call she received from the football team’s head coach Mike London last Friday morning.
“No one is prepared for this,” Huge said. “There is no playbook. Standing in front of a team and telling them that their teammate, their roommate, their friend was gone; taken from his family and this community far too early, is not something in the mandate of how to be a leader. Neither is how to comfort a grieving mother or a devastated sister. No words are adequate.”
“I have really tried to find the right words. To speak words that could somehow ease the pain of a life cut far too short, to provide some solace and perhaps meaning in something so senseless. No such words exist.”
Huge told the crowd Evans was loved by everyone who knew him.
When London took the stand, he spoke forcefully and loudly.
“Nate was competitive,” London said. “He wanted the best out of everybody. He was an any way kind of guy! Any way! Despite what someone didn’t have, what they lacked, he gave them himself and gave it up.”
London’s voice grew in a thunderous crescendo as he urged the crowd to yell back “any way” when he paused while reading a quotation from Mother Theresa.
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered, forgive them,” London said as the masses yelled back “Any way!”
For Carl Fowler, Evan’s roommate, teammate and friend, Evans will be remembered for his clothing — a plain turtleneck tucked into green ankle-length plaid pants and striped socks — his vast musical taste and his ability to encourage his peers.
“If your energy was bad he’d get in your face and let you know, but then he’d lead the way,” Fowler said. “He’d set the example. He was an encourager, he was a believer. He would go out of his way to make someone smile even on days he couldn’t smile himself.”
A friend found Evans’s bible on Saturday, Fowler said. Evans had highlighted several sections from the Book of Matthew.
“Do not judge or you too will be judged,” Fowler said. “Maybe Nate was hoping to escape the judgment for stripes and plaid, but he lived that. He didn’t judge people.”
As the ceremony came to a close, a lone woman, 19-year-old freshman Erika Murphy, in a sea of green and gold seats, rose and sang Amazing Grace.
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares,” Murphy sang. “I have already come, Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.