Archived video: Lane Kiffin praises RT Aaron Douglas
The big No. 78 was impossible to miss.
Growing into his impressive frame and blossoming into a freshman All-American, the digits on the front and back of the Tennessee jersey of Aaron Douglas were hard to ignore.
But it was the smaller numerals, the ones on either side of him scribbled just above a pair of enormous hands, that really captured the attention of at least one observer on the sideline.
In black ink on white tape, Douglas had scribbled some different numbers to honor an injured teammate - and now Nick Reveiz is trying to think of a way to return the favor to his friend after Douglas' death in Florida on Thursday morning.
"When I got hurt in 2009, it was a hard time for me and it was tough going out there and seeing everybody playing when I couldn't," Reveiz said. "That next game, I remember Aaron put '56' on his wrist-tape on both wrists on the outside so you could always see it. He just told me that he was going to play for me, wrote it on his wrist-tape like every single game after that for the rest of the season.
"That's something I'll never forget."
Teammates and coaches from all over the country were latching onto those memories after Douglas was discovered dead on a second-story balcony early Thursday by the Fernandina Beach (Fla.) Police Department.
Douglas didn't quite follow the smooth path he planned for his collegiate career after a wildly successful run at Maryville High School before signing with UT, leaving after two seasons with the program rather than endure a third coaching change after Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California.
But his journey from Knoxville to Arizona Western College and ultimately Alabama for spring practice this year gave him plenty of opportunities to make an impact on others - and many rallied to offer support for him on social networks throughout the day.
"RIP Aaron Douglas," former Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy posted on Twitter. "Enjoyed what little time I spent with you and I know you will be watching over us."
McElroy never actually had a chance to play with Douglas, who fulfilled the requirements UT coach Derek Dooley laid out for him last season by transferring at least an eight-hour drive away from Knoxville when he packed up for Arizona Western. But like he did at previous stops, the loyal and good-natured Douglas didn't seem to have any problems winning over people in or around the Alabama locker room.
The fact Douglas was even in it caught some by surprise, particularly given his legacy status at UT since both of his parents were products of the athletic program. But after spending the year far from home, Douglas was cleared to move back closer to it, which he did by signing with the rival Crimson Tide in December and immediately starting to compete for playing time this fall.
The decision for Douglas could have given him two shots against his old program and some former teammates, and after wearing No. 77 in spring practice with Alabama, his senior season might have afforded him yet another set of numbers to wear in Neyland Stadium. But regardless of the different jerseys or teams, at least to Reveiz, Douglas always will be remembered for putting on the numerals that didn't even belong to him.
And now Reveiz is trying to think of a way to honor Douglas in return.
"He took a lot of criticism and a lot of things that really weren't fair," Reveiz said. "But this whole situation, you realize just how fragile life is. I don't view Aaron any differently for going to Alabama or anything like that. I just feel as a friend and as a good guy, my heart and my prayers go out to his family. This is obviously so unexpected and so abrupt, my viewpoint of Aaron will never change. He's a great kid, great heart and that's how I'll always view him.
"I'll have to think about just how I can honor him. I'd love to honor him, whether it's playing in an NFL game or whatever it is. These are moments that you never forget throughout your life."