Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

February 22, 2012

UGA’s Richt talks faith, honors James Eunice

VALDOSTA — University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt has always been known as a man of faith.

On Tuesday night, the 52-year old Richt spoke about his faith at the James Eunice Charity Fundraising event at Crosspoint Church.

Richt shared several stories with the hundreds in the audience, speaking about how he became a Christian believer, how his faith has changed his life and how James was able to affect others through his messages, even after his death.

“(James) was special,” Richt said. “He is worthy of this kind of event. He was all about people coming to know Jesus Christ. That is his legacy. His legacy isn’t not what a great kid he was, which he was, it’s not how friendly he was to so and so. The legacy is, he was making a difference in someone’s life.”

The night was started off with James’ father, John Eunice Sr., speaking about Richt, mentioning the time that James called him to describe his meeting with Richt, and how he was wearing a University of Florida T-shirt at the time of the meeting. Eunice then introduced Richt, but not before listing his accomplishments and saying kind words about the one-time Miami Hurricane quarterback.

“As good of a coach as he is, he is a better man,” Eunice Sr. said of Richt.

Once at the microphone, Richt brought the audience to laughter on several occasions, including when he recalled the meeting with James and his Florida T-shirt.

But, Richt also spoke about when the time he heard, through Malcolm Mitchell and Jay Rome, both of whom were teammates of James’ at Valdosta High, that James was missing, some 13 months ago. Richt said the only thing he could do in the beginning was pray for the family and friends.

With limited interaction with James prior to his death, Richt said he knew very little about him, but once he started reading about him he quickly became touched.

“Reading more about James, I couldn’t help but think about my own son, David,” said Richt, who had to fight back tears.

Richt said once he learned about James, and what he stood for, he realized that “James had compassion for people,” mentioning the night before his death when he spoke to a young Valdosta High School student about staying in school, rather than dropping out. The young female student continued her studies after her talk with James and will graduate this May.

 After James’ body was recovered, Richt presented the Eunice family with a No. 23 Georgia Bulldog uniform, saying “James made the team.” On Tuesday night, Richt said he had no doubt that James would have made the team once he arrived in Athens as a walk-on, citing his hard work and drive as the main factors.

Richt then spoke about his personal story and how he became a believer in Christ, bringing up the story about a one-time Florida State standout Pablo Lopez. Lopez was shot and killed in 1986 at a party in Tallahassee while Richt was a graduate assistant at the university. The day after Lopez’s death, then head coach Bobby Bowden spoke to the team about where they would spend the rest of eternity. According to Richt, Bowden’s speech to the team made him think about where he would spend eternity. The following morning, Richt became a believer in the Christian faith while sitting in Bowden’s office.

“I knew where I was going to spend eternity and it wasn’t a very good place,” Richt said. “So, I walked into his office, knocked at the door, which was open like he said, and said ‘Coach, can I come in and sit down and talk to you?’...So, long story short, I prayed to receive Christ, right there. I am just so thankful that I did.”

Richt later spoke about his teachings with players and how he has been able to touch lives through Christ and football. He then spoke about the 2006 Sugar Bowl Game in which the Bulldogs played, and lost, to the West Virginia Mountaineers. Richt talked about how the Bulldogs fell behind 28-0 in the contest, only to bring their deficit to three points at the end of the third quarter. But in the end, the Bulldogs ran out of time and fell to the Mountaineers.

Richt’s story connected back to the popular writing piece that James wrote in April of 2010 following the death of a high school baseball teammate. In the piece, James wrote about running out of time and not being able to connect with that fallen teammate and how everyone should live their life for God, as nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

The writing piece couldn’t have been more true, as James passed away the following January.

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