WRIGHTSVILLE, Ga. — A week after Shawn Linder and daughter Bella's deaths, Johnson County head coach Don Norton and his team are back on the football field.
"Keep them fresh and keep them hopping around because downtime is bad for teenagers and now that something has occurred here, we don't give them time to dwell on anything," Norton said. "They need to keep on moving."
Norton and Linder coached together 15 years. He called him one of his best friends.
"Unbelievable, like the best, just a great man. Just exactly what you would hope for in a human being," Norton said.
Linder was a graduate of Johnson County High and 1996 All-State lineman. He returned to JoCo to coach for 17 years. His players appreciated his brand of tough love.
"He's got a big powerful voice, strong, big guy, but he had a lot of love for us and there's nothing he wouldn't have done for this football team," said quarterback, Christian McAfee.
And his position group, the lineman, may feel his loss the most on the team.
"He was everything, he was everything anybody wanted to be," lineman Janius Jordan said.
The football field is where they knew him best and still where they feel him most.
Stickers with Linder and Bella's names on them adorn the helmets and some players have stickers of Linder's face on their lockers or back plates. The community is involved as well.
The softball team is selling bracelets with the pair's name and the phrase "Gone, but not forgotten. We are JoCo."
"People grieve in different ways so it's kinda like your safe house to get close to him and just feel his presence through you," McAfee said.
The team played a game just three days after Linder's accident. It was an emotional display, but in a show of solidarity.
Wheeler County had their fans dress in blue to support the Trojans. Jordan called the environment a tough place to play.
"It was hard, I ain't gonna lie to you it was hard. Everybody, we had to get ourselves into the game," he said.
The rest of the season, however much is left, is dedicated to Shawn and Bella.
"Just doing the rest, all of it for him. Just devoting the season to him and God and that's it," McAfee said.
The Trojans are 7-1 and face Savannah Country Day School on Friday for a region championship.
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