MOULTRIE — Despite having to deal with the arrest of its outstanding starting running back on murder charges, The Colquitt County Packers won 11 of 14 games to take fourth place in the National Select 7 on 7 on Saturday in Hoover, Ala.
The Packers offense had to play without Tykerious Raheem “Grump” Jones, who was arrested Thursday along with six other teens in connection with the recent shooting death of 68-year-old John Hester in Norman Park. Jones and two other former Packers arrested in connection with that crime played on the state championship team last year.
The team learned of Jones’s arrest the day before the tournament started on Friday.
Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst said he decided Thursday night to allow his team to play in the event and is glad he did.
“I think it was great therapy for our football team,” said Propst, who created the 7 on 7 event in 2001 when he was the head coach at Hoover High.
“I was proud of the way they handled things up here. The people here were very courteous to us, treated us very well. There was no negativity.”
Propst said several former Hoover players, who were on the Bucs team in 2002 when player Victor Hill died during a practice session, spoke to the team.
“What they said helped our kids heal a little bit,” Propst said.
The Packers lost one game in pool play on Friday, finishing 6-1 and taking the No. 5 seed for Saturday’s double-elimination portion of the event.
Colquitt won seven straight games, before squandering a 22-6 lead in the final six minutes against Mallard Creek (N.C.).
“We just fell apart,” Propst said.
Colquitt then won three more to reach the Final Four and a game against Hoover High.
The Packers beat Hoover 35-14 last August in their second game of the season at Mack Tharpe Stadium in Moultrie, and it was clear Hoover wanted to make amends on the 7 on 7 field.
Hoover won 42-2 to leave the Packers in fourth place.
“We weren’t pleased with how it ended,” Propst said. “But it was worth the experience. The atmosphere was great, with the SEC Media Days having just been held and the town’s buzzing.”
Even the lop-sided loss to Hoover could have a silver lining.
“We probably needed that butt-whipping,” Propst said. “We need to know everybody’s going to have our game circled on their calendars.”
Propst took the 2009 and 2012 Packers teams to the National Select 7 on 7, and neither finished in the top 16.
“I think finishing in the Final Four was good for a team that just lost its best running back,” Propst said.
Jones, who rushed for 327 yards as a backup last year, averaged 10.6 yards a carry and scored nine touchdowns last fall. He was sorely missed.
“Grump is a dynamic player,” Propst said. “He had the potential to be the best I’ve coached.”
But Propst reiterated that the rising junior is no longer a part of the football program.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hester family,” he said. “This is a serious crime. We’ll just let the investigation take its course.”
Rising seniors Nate Powell and Rafael Merritt got much of the work at the featured back position in Hoover.
“There will have to be some adjustments made,” Propst said.
But the Grump Jones story is just a small part of the nightmare of the small farming town of Norman Park in Colquitt County.
On the night of July 5, John Hester Sr., 68, who lived just across the street from his son John Hester Jr., had taken his shotgun and went to investigate something going on at his son’s house. While details are still sketchy, an apparent robbery attempt had gone bad at his son’s house and gunshots were exchanged. Hester Sr. made it back to his house where he collapsed and 911 was called at 11: 56 p.m. He was rushed to Colquitt Regional Medical Center and later was transferred to Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville where he died at 10 a.m. on July 6.
Hester Jr., 43, said his family and the close knit community is still in shock from the incident. Hester said he took off his belt and applied a tourniquet to his father’s leg. While he would not talk about details of the shootout, he did say there were two car loads of the intruders.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the investigation and has not released the name of the triggerman.
Investigators say that a gun taken in a July 5 burglary of a county residence on Lonnie Brookard Road is believed to be the weapon that killed Hester. Electronics were also taken in that heist. Six teenagers participated in the burglary and were joined by a seventh at the time Hester was shot at his 353 Hwy. 256 home, the GBI said.
Even though he has just lost his father, Hester said he felt for the parents of the teenagers who ranged in age 17 to 19. He said he knew several of the teens and their parents.
“Our family is well known throughout the community. We’ve had a lot of people stop by,” he said. “This has destroyed our lives. It’s so crazy why something like this had to happen. It would seem that these boys had talents, so how does it go so wrong?”
Arrested on Wednesday and Thursday on charges of murder and criminal attempt to commit armed robbery were:
• Tykerious Raheem “Grumpy” Jones, 17, 129 Charm St. Apt. 6, Norman Park
• Derrick Demond Phillips, 18, 4520 U.S. Hwy. 319 N.
• Brandon Quanterrious “Brad” Wynn, 18, 4520 U.S. Hwy. 319 N.
• Christian Savion Glover, 18, 1515 Fourth Ave. N.E. Apt. L5
• I-Key Tumazs Pinkins, 18 429 Sunrise Ave.
• Ty’Cameron La’Darius Hayes, 18, 1515 Fourth Ave. N.E. Apt. E3
• Adrian Lyryan Robinson, 19, Norman Park.
Four of the seven lived in and around Norman Park while three lived in Moultrie.
All of those, with the exception of Robinson, have been charged in the burglary on Lonnie Brookard Road.
Wynn, Pinkin and Jones were Packer football players last year. Jones would have been the featured running back this season and had already caught the attention of college recruiters.
Booking reports indicated that at least one of the suspects turned himself in at Norman Park City Hall after 2 a.m. Thursday.
Authorities are seeking to recover additional property taken in the July 5 burglary. Anyone with information can contact Norman Park police at (229) 769-3611 or the sheriff’s office at (229) 616-7430.