Seven players walked with a purpose toward the stage at Lee High School Wednesday to begin their National Signing Day ceremony, picking the university where they'll play college football. Among them was 18-year-old Edward Johnson.
Johnson kept his head down and never looked up, the tiresome toll of losing his older brother Shaquille Johnson early Sunday morning.
"It's a tough time. I know he's going through a lot," Lee High School head football coach Tyrone Rogers explained. "He looked up to him. He was his mentor."
When it came time for Johnson to speak, the words just weren't there.
So far, no one's been arrested in connection to Shaquille Johnson's death. He, too, was a star athlete for Lee High, leading the Generals to the playoffs in 2015, the same year WSFA 12 News named him the Fever Star Athlete of the Year. He went on to play college at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
"He was like my brother, my family and my cousin," said University of Alabama star linebacker Mack Wilson, who is related to the family. He came Wednesday to lend moral support to his cousin.
"You know, I am just like the next thing to your big brother. I'll always be here for him no matter what," Wilson said.
In a bit of irony, Edward Johnson's girlfriend delivered their baby son the very day Shaquille died. The shock of it all was palpable as Edward sat down for an interview.
"When I heard he was shot, I just seen him laying there. I was just thinking about that," Edward explained.
The school, meantime, raised more than $2,100 for funeral expenses for the Johnson family. Johnson says his brother will be buried on Feb. 17.
"Just thinking about my baby," he went on.
Losing a brother and becoming a father on the same day, Edward Johnson signed to play ball for Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. He is eager to forge ahead in his own quiet way.
He admitted playing ball next year will be somewhat of a challenge because of what happened to his brother, but the way he looks at it he'll have that extra motivation to leave it all on the field.
Shaquille's homicide is still under investigation. No motive has been released and no suspect has been named.