Updated: December 27, 2012 at 12:00 am
FORT WORTH – Yes, Devin Durden is gone. He died in October after a motorcycle accident in Georgia.
But he remains alive in the hearts and minds of his Air Force football teammates. They remember his laughter, his encouraging words, his gleefully vicious style on the field.
The most vivid images linger for Cody Getz, the Air Force senior halfback who was one of Durden’s best friends.
Durden is buried not far from the home where Cody Getz grew up in suburban Atlanta. A few weeks ago, Getz saw his friend resting in a casket. He served a pallbearer at Durden’s funeral.
Getz still talks to Durden each day.
“I’ll be walking to breakfast,” Getz said in a quiet voice a few minutes after the end of practice, “and I’ll start thinking of him. I’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s one of those days. You know what I’m talking about, Devin. Just get me through this day.’”
In August, Durden was a tight end for Air Force’s football team, preparing for his senior season. In early October, he was dead. Durden departed the academy in late September because of disciplinary issues.
On Sept. 26, Durden was hit by a Chevy Blazer while riding his motorcycle near his home. He suffered a severed spine along with multiple fractures. On Sept. 30, he was taken off a ventilator and said “Christian” and “let’s go home.” Those were his final words. He died four days later.
For Air Force players, and especially the seniors, Durden remains a constant presence. In many ways, this is a grim presence, a jolting reminder of how fragile life can be.
And yet …
Durden still inspires smiles. His teammates remember his constant laughter, even in the most trying moments of basic training. They remember his bold, friendly personality.
Durden could walk into a restaurant and initiate a long, surprisingly personal conversation with his waitress. This was not an attempt at romance. This was an expression of his essentially kind nature.
He roamed the locker room before practice and games, slapping his teammates on the back, shaking their hands, offering encouraging words.
“He was so full of life,” said coach Troy Calhoun, his voice shaking. “He had a great spirit about him.”
That spirit remains with this team. Durden is gone, and his teammates realize this excruciating truth, but in a way he walks among them.
Quarterback Connor Dietz was recently sitting in class and sneaking looks at his Facebook page. Someone had just posted a photo of Durden. Dietz, surrounded by classmates, stared at the image of his smiling, deceased teammate.
“Your mind goes blank,” Dietz said, thinking back to the moment. “And you think about whatever you were worried about at that second, and you realize it’s not worth worrying about.”
Getz feels his friend’s presence most strongly, which makes sense. They had been friends since sixth grade. They played alongside each other at Buford High, where they celebrated state championships.
The day Durden departed the academy, he stopped by Getz’s dorm room. Getz remembers his friend’s optimistic mood.
“He wasn’t bitter about anything,” Getz said. “He knew he had made some mistakes, and he wanted to man up and go out with his head held high. He left in great spirits.”
Getz sometimes returns to his final moment with Durden. He stood beside Durden at the funeral home, looking at his friend’s finely pressed service uniform. He kept looking at Durden’s closed eyes.
He thought about all Durden had been and all he might have become.
“Seeing my best friend in a casket,” Getz said.
A long pause.
“That’s a weird experience.”
This was, in some ways, a final goodbye, but the conversation has not ended for Getz.
Sometimes when Getz walks across campus, or stands on a football field, or sits at the dinner table, he reaches out to the friend he saw buried only a few weeks ago.
“Hey, Devin,” Getz says. “I miss you. Hope you’re doing good. Watch out for me.’”
Getz was resting, his feet bare, after practice. He’s a low-key young man who talks in a steady drawl. He gazed at the floor and smiled as he thought of his forever friend.
“Such a good guy,” Getz said. “Such a servant.”
Getz traded text messages during Durden’s long car ride back to Georgia. On the night of Sept. 25, a few hours before Durden’s fatal motorcycle ride, the friends exchanged a final series of texts.
“Hey, I got home safe,” Durden texted Getz.
“If you need anything, I’m always here,” Getz wrote back. “God will be there to pull you through. So will your friends. I love you, Devin.”
The last text from Durden arrived a few seconds later.
“I love you too, man.”
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