In Honor of My Man Brian Crockett

The following was presented at a special assembly at the Williston Northampton School on Tuesday March 25th, 2014 by Donnie McKillop as part of a remembrance of faculty member and coach Brian Crockett.

0072-_3A_1303It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today to honor our dear friend Brian Crockett. Describing all that was great about Brian Crockett is impossible. As we stand here today as a community we know that he had a HUGE impact on all those he interacted with. Brian was a great friend to me and I am blessed to have known him. It is important as we remember Brian, not to compare who was closest to him, but instead remember all the positive relationships he easily created with all those around him. I am going to try and convey some of the things he was in my life and some of the lessons I learned from him. Please bear with me as I might get emotional.

“Larger Than Life”

When I attended Brian’s funeral it was easy to see how many people loved the big man. The service couldn’t be held in his own church because it was too small for the expected audience. Although it was moved to a larger Baptist church, there still was not enough space for the busloads of people that adored Brian. As I stood in the audience and listened to the tribute to Brian I heard so many amazing stories about his life. Regardless of your religion, you could feel the amount of faith and love in that church. It was an uplifting celebration of who Brian was. From the first standing ovation for Brian to the moment the hearse pulled away, it was a room full of singing praise and joy for a life well lived.

Although Brian left us far too early, we were blessed to have his beaming personality in our lives. From the moment I met Brian, I immediately knew he was my kind of guy. Peter Valine introduced me to him in the dining hall last spring. Although I knew he was an offensive linemen at Colgate, I was still surprised by his imposing size. I’ll never forget how warm he was when he stood up from his lunch and reached his hand out with the biggest ring on his finger, the endearing head nod, and the enthusiastic handshake. He held court at that table. Brian took a genuine interest in everyone at the table and had his huge signature smile on his face the whole time. Then I heard his big joyous laugh. We knew our community needed him. He was a big man with a bigger heart.

Wrestlers/Football players gathered to honor Coach Crockett. Photo by Andrea Adams
Wrestlers/Football players gathered to honor Coach Crockett. Photo by Andrea Adams

Brian was my assigned mentee at Williston, but as we all soon realized the transition was not tough for Coach Crockett. When he moved onto Williston’s campus he found friends everywhere. With his fellow new teachers he went to NENTs at Pomfret and was the light of every room. On Sawyer field he was the new energy for both our players and coaching staff. In the classroom he embodied passion and enthusiasm. In the dorm he reached out to all at a personal level and was always the comedic light during the dreaded study hall hours.

My first mentor moment was when I invited Brian over for dinner during football preseason. Katy cooked dinner for Brian, Justin Geyer, and myself, clearly no small feat. Brian decided he was going to bring over some buffalo chicken dip. When he showed up he did not stop talking about that damn dip. He was a proud man. He was bragging about how he used “real chicken.” Bri exuded confidence and had so much fun with the people he was around. From then on, I always expected to see Brian’s buffalo chicken dip and knew he would ask whoever tried it to guess the ingredients. Ironically, I will miss that tasty buffalo chicken dip made from real chicken and that silly guessing game, but more importantly that proud smile.

The thing that really brought Bri and I together was our passion for football. As he was an Offensive Lineman and I was a Quarterback—it was a natural fit. We had common interests and a lot of confidence, mixed in with a humble work ethic. He was used to protecting guys like me, and I was trained to appreciate all of the great things he did. Although his sports fanhood often clashed with mine, it created great banter and a brotherly love.

Before he stepped foot on campus I had him signed up to play on my touch football team, the Chessmen Bears. It was a great platform for Bri to compete with his amazing physicality, but also a place for him to have a great time. He had the best attitude about the league. He was an All-American at Colgate and had nothing to prove; he was ready to just have fun with some newly found close friends playing a sport he loved dearly. I will always remember him saying in the huddle, “Coach Mack, give me the rock and watch what I do with it.” He was the center of our teams’ cohesion. I had to throw him the ball every game or I would never hear the end of it.

They wrote messages to Coach in a journal and placed flowers and special keepsakes at the Lion. Photo by Andrea Adams
They wrote messages to Coach in a journal and placed flowers and special keepsakes at the Lion. Photo by Andrea Adams

I will always remember our trip to Colgate for his homecoming weekend. Our 5 a.m. wake up and drive back for our playoff game was not an easy one, but will always be an image of joy and will bring a smile to my face. I will remember winning our old man super bowl and the picture of him hoisting up the trophy. The Bears loved Brian not only for his abilities, but the great energy and perspective he brought to the team.

Brian and I would hang out every Wednesday and Sunday. It started off with our Wednesday night basketball games and Sunday morning football games, but went much deeper. We would hangout, play video games, talk about our sports teams, college days, girl problems, boarding school. We were comfortable talking about anything in life. Brian was a great friend of mine and I will always be thankful for his presence in my life.
When I got the phone call from his Aunt Francine on Tuesday, March 4th, I was mortified. I think we will all remember exactly where we were when we heard the terrible news. I remember offering Aunt Francine any assistance and she strongly replied saying that she was okay and she was chilling with her baby boy one last time. She is one of the strongest woman I have ever met and brought such an amazing perspective to Brian and all those around him. When I hung up the phone I will never forget the noise that soon came out of me. The questions started pouring out and I was an emotional wreck.

About an hour later I spoke with Ben Thompson who reached out with a supportive embrace and told me that there is no single way to handle that kind of loss. He told me to surround myself with support and people that would be able to listen to me and also help me get through this.

While I have been on an emotional roller coaster and know that I, selfishly, will never understand why Brian was taken from me, his funeral helped give me perspective. It was a celebration of the life he lived and it helped me realize that Brian’s worldly impact will never be forgotten and that he is in a better place now. I hope all of you who are suffering this loss have reached out to people you love and received their support through this. If you need a hug or a listening ear please know that I am here for all of you as are many others in this room.

One of the best things about this community is how close we can get to people like Brian Crockett. The night he passed I was inundated with people reaching out to offer a warm hug or friendly conversation. About 40 people came over to my apartment to tell stories and remember the positive things Brian gave all of us. There were so many stories of laughter and joy. I received a lot of love and support from the people who cared about both Brian and myself. That night I knew that I needed to tell everyone in this community one story to commemorate the values Brian had, Brian’s last lecture.

As I mentioned before we used to go into deep conversations on all kinds of topics about life. One of the last late Wednesday nights I had with Brian we were getting into some really deep philosophical conversations about life and opportunities. Before I knew it I asked Brian about what he wanted to do at Williston. He immediately spoke about how he wanted to make sure kids understood the opportunities that have been given to them and to teach them how to appreciate them. He then explained to me a lot about his upbringing. He was a humble young boy born in Patterson New Jersey. He lost his mom early in his life and was raised by his Aunt Francine Wise and a huge community of faithful family. Brian was so proud of the supporting family that he grew up under and had so much appreciation for the people that reached out and raised him. His family instilled amazing values in him and it was easy to see how much adoration he had for them. He knew that people in his life went out of their way for his well-being and his resulting driven personality rose from that. He was a big man with athleticism, but he knew he was more than an athlete and had to make the most of everything that people sacrificed for his benefit.

He told me about a time when he was struggling academically in his younger years and he had someone talk some sense into him and instill confidence in his abilities. He was so grateful for that life changing conversation because he then went on to graduate from St. Mary’s High School and then Colgate University where he graduated with a 3.9 GPA.

Brian could have found many reasons to justify a different outlook on life, but he chose to rise above adversity. He chose to embrace every opportunity of every day. Brian was grateful for his life path and was proud of who he was. There was nothing Brian could not conquer. He spoke of his plans to start training for the NFL combine starting this spring and his desire to go a pro-day in the spring of 2015. He had the confidence to succeed and the willingness to put in the work to make it happen. It was easy for me to see why he had so many great virtues and how natural it was for him to try and instill them into the very people who sit before me today.

If Brian were standing up in front of you today I know he would tell you to embrace the day with enthusiasm. He would ask that you honor him by showing appreciation for the opportunities you get in life each day. He would ask us to smile like he does and realize that life is really fun but to set out and achieve your goals. Be the joy of other people’s lives while working hard and making yours as good as it can be.

When I called my Dad to tell him the news about Brian and ask for supporting words I will never forget my Dad’s response: “Man, Brian was larger than life.” My Dad only met Brian a few times, but those words could not have been more accurate. Brian’s impact on this community will be much larger than the far too short of life he lived. On a gloomy day when I feel down, I will always think about Brian’s big smile and positivity. I will remember when he was exhausted, but still gave everyone around him all that he had. Brian was larger than life and will always be a part of mine!

Letter to Brian Crockett

Dear Bri,
I will always cherish the memories we made together. Whether it was coaching on the sideline next to you or playing on the old man field with you, I will remember your laugh. Your genuine positivity and excitement about all of the things in your life. I will forever remember your Buffalo dip that you were so proud of. I will forever see your bright smile with those studded earrings, your glasses and that humongous ring. I will forever be grateful for the friend you quickly became in my life and the amount of joy you brought to me.

With all of my love and affection,
Your boy,
Coach Mack

Everlasting Thoughts

This should not be a sad day, as we all know Brian will smile every day in our lives. When I attended the Baptist service for Bri, we began with a round of applause to celebrate Brian’s life. Please stand up with me and give Brian a HUGE round of applause for a life well lived and all of those who he will continue to live through!

One thought on “In Honor of My Man Brian Crockett”

  1. Donnie, thank you for sharing your extraordinary tribute to Brian with all of us. For those of us who did now know him personally, your words created a ‘forever Brian’ who will be a memory I, for one, will never forget. We send our very deepest condolences and healing thoughts to the whole Williston community.

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