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POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. -- Rain drops pelted the covered picnic pavilion at Ben Hill Strickland Sr. Memorial Park unrelentingly, a steady rain quickly becoming a downpour.It was the kind of wet afternoon only a duck could love, but that didnt deter Rajaan Bennetts former teammates, classmates, friends and family members. One by one, they trickled into the park to share stories and pay tribute to their fallen friend, who would have been 25 this fall.Bennett, a Vanderbilt football signee and honors student at McEachern High School in suburban Atlanta, was shot and killed in a murder-suicide on Feb. 18, 2010, while trying to protect his family. The gunman, Clifton Steger, was the estranged boyfriend of Bennetts mother, Narjaketha Bennett, and had broken into the home and taken the family hostage in the wee hours of the morning before shooting Rajaan and then turning the gun on himself.As short as Rajaans life was, it was profoundly impactful, and those who knew him best have gone to painstaking efforts to keep his memory alive. So when Narjaketha reached out to Rajaans friends to inform them of this story, nobody blinked when the day selected for everyone to gather happened to coincide with a monsoon.By the time Narjaketha showed up at the park with her son, Desyvon, and daughter, Narcharlette, as many as 10 people were already there waiting, and that number grew as others got off of work and fought through traffic all the way from downtown Atlanta.Ruth Ohanu, a biology major attending Georgia State, was there. She rode to school in the mornings with Rajaan along with another friend, Marissa Dean, and they used to entertain each other by talking about everything they were going to do with their lives.Rajaan was so competitive and would rub it in your face if he got a better grade in a class than you, but he was never condescending, Ohanu recalled. Thats just who he was, always pushing you to do better, and the thing I remember most about those conversations is that his hopes and dreams always began and ended with helping his family.Cousins Jaquesh Hunter and Taeron Brown were also there along with a cluster of former teammates, including Treston Moore, Robert Smith and Brandon Cleveland. Moore said he will forever be indebted to Rajaan for helping him woo his girlfriend.If it werent for Rajaan, I wouldnt have my son [Brayden], Moore said.Marcquis Roberts, who will be a senior linebacker at Kansas this season, was home that week and also swung by. Roberts started his career at South Carolina before transferring to Kansas and wears No. 5 in honor of Rajaan, who was a year ahead of Roberts at McEachern.Demarius Matthews, one of Rajaans closest friends, was a captain with Rajaan at McEachern and went on to play collegiately at Georgia State. He showed up a little bit late after picking up his three kids after work and brought them along. His oldest son, Jhakari, is named after Rajaan, whose middle name was Jhakari.Janine Laura, who had several classes with Rajaan, hustled over from her job at a physical therapy clinic.He showed us how to live, and thats why we are sitting out here six years later in the rain and talking about him, Laura said.Roberts, gazing into the distance as the rain continued to pour, nodded his head slowly.Hes one of the reasons I keep pushing, Roberts said. He had a drive to succeed thats in every one of us. School gets tough. Football gets tough, and I just think about him. Ive been through three surgeries in college, an ACL and both shoulders, but I know he wouldnt quit.He was at his best when things were the toughest.***That morning is still a blur for everybody who suffered through it. Narjaketha had recently broken up for good with Steger after trying to end it several other times. He didnt take the split well and continued sending harassing text messages and begging for her to take him back. Steger had been living with the family before Narjaketha told him he had to find someplace else to live and was even with the family at the school two weeks earlier to celebrate Rajaan signing with Vanderbilt.I changed my cell number four times, and he kept getting my new number, Narjaketha said. He was never abusive, but was asking me to write checks for him, money I didnt have, and I knew it was time for him to go.Rajaan had been the man of the house since he was 10, when his father, Charles, was killed in a head-on car collision soon after moving the family from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Atlanta area. Wise beyond his years, Rajaan gladly took on the dual role of big brother and surrogate father to Desyvon and Narcharlette. Desyvon, who is non-verbal and developmentally delayed, requires special care, and Rajaan was always right there to give him baths and cook meals for both his brother and sister, especially with his mother working long hours in Georgia Techs parking and transportation department.The week before the murder, Steger would sit outside Bennetts house in his car, calling and texting Narjaketha, who had already discussed with officers at her work what she needed to do to keep Steger away from her and her kids. They advised her to go see police in Powder Springs, which she was planning to do on her next off day.I just remember one of the last things [Steger] said to me was, Those things that make you smile will make you cry, said Narjaketha, who cant get those chilling words out of her head.That next morning, she awoke at 2 a.m. with Steger standing over her and holding a 22-caliber pistol to her head. He initially ordered her, the three kids and Narjakethas brother, Taiwan Hunter, into a bathroom. Taiwan was staying with the Bennett family at the time and was sleeping on the couch. Later, Steger changed his mind and allowed Desyvon to remain in one of the bedrooms, where he was watching television. Steger instructed Narjaketha to collect all of the cell phones.It was dark, and Rajaan just kept trying to reassure me and would say, Its going to be OK, mom, Narjaketha recalled. What [Steger] first told me was that he wanted me to kill him with his gun, and then he made me tape everybody up and put them in the bathroom.Thinking quickly, Narjaketha told Steger she had recently lost her phone, but in truth had hidden it under her pillow. She managed to sneak it to Rajaan, and when Steger left the bathroom briefly, Rajaan called 911 and whispered to police what was happening.Julie Collins, a lieutenant in the Powder Springs Police Department, was one of the first officers on the scene. She said Rajaan saved lives by having the presence of mind and courage to call 911.In my honest opinion, after doing this for 20 years, my belief is that [Steger] would have ended up taking all of their lives had Rajaan not made that call, Collins said. He was very brave. Most of the time, when guns come out, people run. But this kid protected his sister until the very end and did everything he could to protect his family. He would have gone to any length to protect them.When the police showed up at the house, Steger pulled Narjaketha out of the bathroom and instructed her to go tell them everything was OK. When she got to the front door, she was hysterical.All we heard then were footsteps, Taiwan said. He was out of his mind, love-struck and crazy, and coming back for us.Taiwan met Steger at the bathroom door, wrestled with him and did his best to get the gun. In doing so, Taiwan was shot in the abdomen and managed to stagger out the front door of the house and was quickly grabbed by officers.Im from the streets. I knew what was about to happen, said Taiwan, who underwent surgery for a punctured lung. He was going to kill us all, and I tried to grab the gun. All I heard were two shots, and then I look down and see blood, and my ears start ringing. It was like it was forever between those two shots. I knew I might die, but at least my nephew and niece would live.After tussling with Taiwan, an enraged Steger turned his attention back to the bathroom, where Rajaan had managed to undo his tape by then. Steger barreled in and started shooting indiscriminately. All Narcharlette remembers is Rajaan grabbing her and covering her up in the bathtub.Rajaan was on top of me, and everything just went silent, Narcharlette said. I heard the gun fall and could see [Steger] lying there on the floor.Her only concern was her big brother.I kept telling Rajaan to get up, to get up off of me, that it was over, that [Steger] had shot himself, Narcharlette said, her voice trailing off and her eyes moist. It happened so fast. ... I had blood on my hands when I crawled out from under Rajaan and even poured water on his face to try and wake him up. He wasnt moving.Rajaan had been shot through the heart. His last two acts before dying were shielding his sister from a spray of bullets that would have almost certainly killed her and then calling out to his mother, who by that time was out of the house. But Rajaan had no way of knowing if she were dead or alive at that point.He was yelling for Mom. Thats the last thing I heard him say, Narcharlette said.***Its the kind of unspeakable tragedy that resonates. It resonates in the Powder Springs community, where Rajaan was revered. It resonates across the Vanderbilt campus, where even three head coaches later, Derek Mason speaks with conviction about Rajaans place in the Commodore family. And most of all, it resonates in the hearts and minds of Rajaans classmates, teammates and coaches at McEachern, not to mention those teammates at Vanderbilt he never got a chance to play with.I never met Rajaan until the recruiting process, but it didnt take me long to realize what we were getting, just the entirety of the man he was, said former Vanderbilt defensive end Kyle Woestmann, who was a part of the same 2010 signing class as Rajaan.Ill never forget him texting me one night and saying, Hey, bro, Im going to Vandy. I couldnt have been happier. We were pulling together one of the best classes in Vanderbilt history. We already had Andre Hal and Jordan Matthews, and Rajaan was going to be the cherry on top. To this day, I still pray about it, pray for his family and pray for him.Its amazing how many lives that kid touched in just 18 years.The tears shed for Rajaan would have filled up any football stadium. His friends and family still miss him dearly. They still love to tell stories about him, from how he loved making nachos for friends, to his penchant for playing pranks, to the way he punished would-be tacklers on the football field.But more than anything, they want to make sure Rajaans legacy endures.I really think he was an angel. Theres no way one person could bring that many people together, Cleveland said.Marcus Gamble, one of Rajaans closest friends, was talking on the phone with Rajaan the night before Rajaan was killed.Youre never supposed to question God. But of all people, why did that have to happen to Rajaan? said Gamble, whose parents, Willie and Priscilla, were also a big part of Rajaans life. Its like I said at his funeral. If I could go up there for him to heaven and let him come back down here and be with his family, knowing everything he meant to them, I would do it. Unfortunately, it doesnt work like that.Taiwan admits the ordeal shook his faith as well.Even if Rajaan never played a down in the NFL, he was going to be a millionaire. He was that special, Taiwan said. He was his mamas savior and became a man when everybody else his age was just a boy. He had to because his daddy died so young. He called me, Unc, and would always look at me and say, Unc, Ive got big plans for this family. Desyvon was only 17 when Rajaan was killed, and Narcharlette was 14. Desyvon knows his brother is gone, but is unable to express himself. Still, hes rarely without a smile or his trusty Vanderbilt cap and glowingly points to Rajaans picture in the familys living room. Narcharlette took Rajaans murder the hardest.She wrote a gripping essay as a freshman in high school detailing the last minutes of Rajaans life. It was titled The Little Sisters Story, and in it she refers to her brother as a super hero.Id dream sometimes that he was back, and then youd wake up, Narcharlette said. It just didnt seem real. None of it did, and I didnt want to believe he was really gone. Hed always been right there, always such a big part of our lives. If he was cooking, hed make me do the dishes, and maybe wed split the laundry, but he took care of us.The ultimate team player in football, Rajaan never had any problem prioritizing what was most important. There were times he had to leave practice early to pick up his brother and get him home safely.Hes a kid who never missed practice, McEachern football coach Kyle Hockman said. But hed let you know if he had to leave at a certain time to go take care of his brother. Thats who he was to the core.***On the football field, Bennett blossomed into a coveted running back prospect and rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns his senior season. He helped lead McEachern to an unbeaten regular season in 2009 and was the heartbeat of that team. Even now, the McEachern team will watch some of his pregame speeches that were captured on video.He was big and thick and ran hard, but his greatest attribute was his ability to raise everybody elses game, said McEachern athletic director and former head football coach Jimmy Dorsey, who coached Rajaan his first two years in high school.Several SEC schools offered Rajaan, but he chose Vanderbilt to the delight of then-Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, now a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Johnson knew what Rajaan could do for his program and, just as importantly, knew what Vanderbilt could do for him. Rajaan planned to major in architecture and planned to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.You never imagine anything like that happening, Johnson said. As football coaches, you learn early on to deal with adversity, but something like that isnt a part of football. Thats something that sticks with you. He was doing the right things, the right way. He was building a better life, and it was paying off. He had the talent and the will to do anything he wanted, and thats why he wanted to come to Vanderbilt.And then, just like that, hes gone.As fate would have it, Johnson never coached another game. He resigned five months later, just weeks before the start of preseason practice, after nine years as Vanderbilts coach. At the time, Johnson said football was not life ... but that it consumes your life and mused, You only have so many years to live.Johnson insisted at the time there wasnt a singular factor that led to his decision. But as he looks back now, he concedes seeing such a promising kid struck down so tragically took an irreparable toll.I cant say that was the reason. Im not going to say that, Johnson said. A lot of factors go into a decision like that, but Rajaans death was certainly a factor. You hurt for a kid like that, hurt for his family, and the fact that you dont get an opportunity to coach a guy you knew was the perfect fit for your school and your program hurts, too.Johnson endured a similar tragedy in 2004 when Vanderbilt running back Kwane Doster was shot and killed in Tampa, Florida, while sitting in the backseat of a friends car.You never forget those things as long as you live, Johnson said. I remember both phone calls like it was yesterday. Its hard to get it out of your head. Both were great kids, and I mean great kids. You see other kids mess up and go on, and here are two kids who wanted to get ahead, who wanted to help their families, and then somebody cuts them down.***To this day, nobody in the Bennett family has gone back to that house on Woodcrest Drive where the murder occurred. Narcharlette said her stomach knots up if shes anywhere in the area. In fact, Taiwan said the family as a whole has never really discussed that horrific morning.We just left it there, Taiwan said. It was too painful to talk about.Narjaketha refuses to speak Stegers name, and until approached her, she had not spoken publicly about the details of her sons murder. She chooses her words carefully, smiling softly any time somebody offers a remembrance of Rajaan. She wears his class ring on her right index finger and has his signature tattooed on her left wrist.She and Narcharlette also wear blue-and-gold bands on their wrists with the words from Rajaans last Facebook post: Dont be scared. On their living room wall hangs a framed No. 5 Vanderbilt jersey, which was presented to the family when Vanderbilt honored Rajaan prior to a 2010 game.Only in the past few months has Narjaketha brought herself to open a huge box of letters written by students at McEachern following Rajaans death. They ranged from his closest friends to those who barely knew him but admired what he stood for on and off the field.I just felt like its time to talk about it, time to make sure everyone knows how much Rajaan meant to all of us, to make sure we keep his memory alive, and maybe our story will help somebody else out there, Narjaketha said.At McEachern, there are heartfelt reminders of Rajaan everywhere. His old locker is now a shrine. It was moved to the front of the Indians locker room, and everything in it was left as is, including a pair of his cleats and old newspaper clippings.A tradition at McEachern home football games is for fans to hold up five fingers just before the opening kickoff. Its their way of remembering Rajaan, whose face is emblazoned on a plaque adjacent to the field. The McEachern players pass the memorial as they make their way to the field.Its our way of Keeping 5 Alive, Hockman said. Its that strength and faith, what he stood for as a person, and we want to keep that legacy going in our program as a core value, but then also keep his spirit and what he meant to us.A lot of the kids playing for us now probably didnt know him, and some of them may not remember seeing him play, but they know what Rajaan Bennett embodied -- and thats never going away.Nobody at McEachern has worn No. 5 since Rajaan was killed, and they never will as long as Im here, Hockman said.Narcharlette is living, breathing proof of how Rajaan lived his life. His selflessness, which even before his heroism on the morning he died, was a big part of what endeared so many people to him.He gave up his life to save mine, Narcharlette whispers softly.***Now 20, Narcharette cherishes her brothers memory and is using it as motivation to join the Air Force. She knows its what Rajaan would have wanted for her and admits she went into a shell after he was murdered.But I always felt him there with me. We all did, and weve done our best to draw from his strength, Narcharlette said.It has been a struggle financially for the Bennett family. Theyve moved a couple of times. Narjakethas father died of cancer two months after Rajaan was killed, and she lost her job at Georgia Tech after having to spend more time taking care of her mother, who died of congestive heart failure in October.Theyre buoyed, though, by Rajaans ultimate sacrifice. Eight days before he was killed, Rajaan wrote an essay for his multi-cultural literature class titled Strength. In one of the excerpts, he talked about strength being a blanket to protect you from this cold world and vowed later in the essay that every obstacle has a way around it.The only thing that stopped Rajaan on that bitterly cold and sorrow-filled morning six years ago was a bullet. And even then, he was busy saving others until his last breath.Everything I do, I try to build Rajaan into it, said Matthews, softly rubbing the head of his 4-year-old son, who serves as a constant reminder of his dear friend. My oldest son is named after Rajaan, and even with all that, I guess I still havent dealt with it like Im supposed to. But you just keep moving, keep believing and keep loving.He taught us that. Michal Neuvirth Flyers Jersey. Aside from the trilogy main event title fight, there are a number of intriguing matchups in the heavyweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions. Michael Raffl Flyers Jersey Authentic. Miller reached right to deflect Mikhail Grabovskis attempt with just over 2 minutes remaining in regulation, and then made two more saves in the shootout Sunday to give the Sabres a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals. Bryant, who signed a five-year, $34 million contract as a free agent with Cleveland in March, reported symptoms on Monday morning, a team spokesman said. Brian Propp Flyers Jersey Authentic. -- Peyton Manning will have all of his wide receivers available for the first time in a month when the Denver Broncos begin their playoff run Jan. Andrew MacDonald Flyers Jersey. Then the Pacers gave Oladipo and his Orlando teammates the cold shoulder. Paul Georges buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter spurred a 21-4 run, finally sending Indiana past the Magic 97-87 in a tougher-than-expected opening night matchup. The Alabama invitational, um, College Football Playoff is set, along with 38 other bowl games big and small.From coaching intrigue to record-setting runs there should be plenty of story lines to follow.---THE PLAYOFFTop-ranked Alabama and Nick Saban are attempting to win an unprecedented fifth national title in eight seasons, including back-to-back for a second time, and add to what can already be considered the greatest run in the history of college football.The Peach Bowl semifinal between the Tide and No. 4 Washington it will also be the first meeting of Saban and Washington coach Chris Petersen, who has an .826 winning percentage since he first became a head coach with Boise State in 2006.Petersens Boise teams were known for upsets. Alabama is a two-touchdown favorite.The Fiesta Bowl semifinal between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State is a rematch of the 2014 Orange Bowl won by Clemson 40-35. That game completed a late-season meltdown of Ohio States defense that led coach Urban Meyer to make staff and scheme changes that have helped the Buckeyes have one of the top defenses in the country three years running.RUSHING TOWARD A RECORDSan Diego States Donnel Pumphrey needs 108 yards in his final college game against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17 to break the FBS career record held by former Wisconsin star and Heisman winner Ron Dayne.The Cougars, led by star freshman defensive lineman Ed Oliver, have one of the best run defenses in the country, allowing 97 yards per game and 2.87 per carry.Pumphrey is the nations second-leading rusher at 155 yards per game.COACHING CAROUSELHouston will go into its bowl game with an interim coach after Tom Herman left for Texas and a few other schools could be in similar situations.- No. 12 Western Michigan is on its way to the biggest bowl game in school history, a matchup with No. 8 Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, but coach P.J. Fleck has been the subject of much speculation with regards to openings at Purdue and Oregon.- Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm has been tied to Purdue and Baylor openings. The Hilltoppers, who have won two straight Conference USA titles, face Memphis on Dec. 20 in the Boca Raton Bowl.- Boise State and Baylor meet Dec. 27 at Cactus Bowl in Phoenix. It will be the last game for Jim Grobe, Baylors acting head coach who took over on short notice after Art Briles was fired in the summer.Broncos coach Bryan Harsin is being mentioned as candidate for Oregon.STYLE CLASHThe best bowls are often the ones between teams that take very different approaches to offense.- Navy will bring its triple-option (averaging 327 yards rushing per game) to the Armed Forces Bowl to face Louisiana Tech, which averages 360 yards passing per game behind quarterback Ryan Higgins.dddddddddddd- Minnesota faces Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, but only the Cougars have the pedigree to live up to the bowls high-scoring tradition. Minnesota has thrown eight touchdown passes, tied for 124th in the nation. The Cougars have 39 touchdown passes.- North Carolinas up-tempo offense matches Stanfords plodding, traditional pro-style in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30.IN NEED OF A STRONG FINISHThe Music City Bowl in Nashville was definitely not what Tennessee (8-4) and coach Butch Jones had in mind this season after the Volunteers beat Florida in September. But here the Vols are facing No. 24 Nebraska (9-3).Not only did the Vols blow a chance to win the SEC East by losing to South Carolina, but they blew a chance to back into the Sugar Bowl by losing to Vanderbilt.On the other side, No. 24 Nebraskas second season under coach Mike Riley was a huge step forward from five wins to nine. But the Cornhuskers were a top-10 team in late October and their best victory of the season was against Minnesota. Getting to 10 wins against a big brand like Tennessee would make a huge difference to how this season is viewed.FINALESA great group of junior running backs could all be playing their final college games.- Christian McCaffrey at Stanford should find some room to run against a North Carolina defense that had trouble stopping teams on the ground late in the season.- No. 19 LSUs Leonard Fournette faces No. 15 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31. Fournette has been hampered by an ankle injury but it would be nice to get one more look at him running for the Tigers.And, oh by the way, the Heisman Trophy winner might be on the other side of the field. Cardinal quarterback Lamar Jackson is still the front-runner and would be the first Heisman winner since Johnny Manziel in 2012 to not play in either the playoff or the BCS championship.- No. 10 Florida State against No. 6 Michigan in the Orange Bowl is one of the best bowls outside the playoff and a big part of that is Seminoles star Dalvin Cook.- Pitts James Conner has been one of the best stories in college football, returning from cancer treatment to run for 1,060 yards and score 20 touchdowns. He and the 22nd-ranked Panthers face Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28.---Follow Ralph D. Russo at AP college football: Wholesale Jerseys  Cheap NFL Jerseys Wholesale Jerseys Authentic Jerseys From China Wholesale Jerseys Wholesale NFL Jerseys ' ' '


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