Retired jerseys on the wall and hands in the air at the start of the fourth quarter on Friday nights are only a small part of the legacies former students Cameron Underwood and Donnie Crotty left.
Underwood, a 2006 Roberson graduate passed away in his dorm room during his sophomore year at North Carolina State University. He wore No. 5 on the field as the Rams’ starting quarterback during his time with the Roberson football program; and now, current players still honor his memory at each game.
“It has become a part of the tradition of being at TC. It has kind of gone away a little bit because some people just don’t know him, but at the start of the 4th quarter, players hold up five fingers instead of four in honor of Cameron. Some of the coaches still on staff, like Coach Gilmore, played with him, and they still honor the tradition,” said assistant football coach Damon Brown.
Underwood led the 2004 varsity team to regional finals. According to Underwood’s mother, Angela Underwood, Cameron loved Roberson from his years in youth football all the way up until he was a student at NC State. She said that he “bled blue and gold for Roberson.”
“I graduated from Asheville High and was active there, but my heart and support is here at TC. Even though [Asheville’s] my alma mater, TC Roberson has my heart.This community is a family to me, and they’ve always been there for me. And I’m going to be there for them as well,” she said.
Underwood’s jersey is retired and hanging in the locker room. His younger brother, Cecyll, wore that jersey number for the last time in the game against Reynolds following Cameron’s death.
“I’ve never heard anything bad about him. The amount of support TC’s community gave us is unforgettable, and it leaves me with a special attachment to TC. Their words and support have made me view Cam as a superhero,” Cecyll said.
Roberson’s only other retired jersey, in any sport, belonged to Donnie Crotty. Crotty died after an accident on campus during the program’s summer youth football camp. As a rising junior, Crotty never had the opportunity to play on the varsity squad, but according to Brown, his situation was heart-wrenching. Even today, many of his fellow teammates have been greatly affected by the loss of one of their own.
“Some kids had a very hard time dealing with it, and they worked through it. That team the next year was closer because of the whole experience. We carried his jersey (57) out on the field for two years; somebody always ran it out with them,” Brown said.
According to former principal Amy Rhoney, throughout the year, Roberson did many things to remember Crotty but she believes carrying his jersey out on the field was the most powerful for 2 years following. According to traditions around the sport, many other teams honor students who have passed away in similar fashion.
“A reminder for me through Donnie’s passing comes from a book that Donnie’s mother shared with us called ’How Full Is Your Bucket.’ The idea behind the book is that we have a choice each day to either dip from someone’s bucket or fill someone’s bucket,” Rhoney said, “It is a constant reminder to me of the kindness Donnie exhibited to everyone he came into contact with.”
Brown said that the legacies Underwood and Crotty left, and the lives they touched from their time at Roberson, are the true reasons they have been honored. In addition to the jerseys, each year two players on the football team are recognized by an award in honor of each.
“A bunch of players remember Donnie and know why his legacy continues. All I heard about both him and Cameron was that they were outstanding kids. They always did the right thing, they did well in school, they weren’t bad influences and they were just good kids,” said senior football player Ryan Ruff.
According to Angela Underwood, Roberson’s community has made a positive impact on this process and has been there for her family through it all.
“I will tell anyone to be kind to each other. Life is too short. Make the most of your time and your life while you’re here. Roberson’s support and love is neverending and this camaraderie is just unbeatable,” she said.