Aubrey Dawkins had been friends with Shay Watson since second grade.
So after Watson was found shot to death in his home Aug. 25, Dawkins felt he needed to honor his former teammate and fellow wide receiver.
Before the second football game of the season Friday, Aug. 30, the Verona senior switched from his normal No. 1 jersey to Watson’s No. 2.
“I want to do it for the rest of the season to pay tribute to my brother,” Dawkins said.
It was an emotional week for the whole team, with the death of two former players a few days apart.
In addition to Watson, who had planned to attend Madison West this fall but played football for Verona the past two years and was on the boys track team last spring, 2014 graduate Grant Langer, 23, died Aug. 17, in Memphis, Tennessee.
The visitation for Langer, a two year veteran firefighter who died off duty, was Thursday night, and the funeral was Friday. The visitation for Watson was Friday, and the funeral was Saturday.
“It was a long week and a sad week,” Verona football coach Dave Richardson said. “I was afraid that all of our emotions were really tied into what was important and that’s those guys who lost their lives. You try to make football important, but when those things happen, football is not that important.”
The team still put together a dominating performance over rival Middleton, winning 61-35. Dawkins had three receptions for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
“I know he was up there watching and helping me along,” Dawkins said of Watson. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Richardson said he’s glad the players found a way through it, and each day it got better as they talked about it.
“Each day we pointed to tonight and how you want to remember some great kids who played for us,” he said. “Let’s remember this night. I think we will.”