It has been four years since Conner Boston’s older brother died, but the Collins Hill football player still talks to him every day. Especially on Friday nights.
Before every game, Boston goes to the corner of the Eagles’ weight room where he writes his brother Jarrett’s initials on his wrist.
He puts on his No. 10 jersey, the same number Jarrett wore as a quarterback before dying from malignant melanoma in 2006.
He gathers behind the Collins Hill banner as the team is introduced and that’s when emotions start to swirl.
“When I get out there, that’s when it kicks in,” Boston said.
It doesn’t matter if it’s before kickoff, before the snap of a play or after Boston makes a tackle, he’s always talking to his brother.
“I just talk to him,” Boston said. “Just help. Help with the game as much as he can.”
Boston asks for his brother’s help as a way for guidance and reassurance. The two grew up together playing football in the backyard like many brothers. Jarrett was the quarterback, Conner the receiver.
Then when Jarrett was in eighth grade, doctors diagnosed him with melanoma. It didn’t appear to be a big deal at the time as the mole was removed, but two years later it came back.
Jarrett was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball. Off the field he was a scholar-athlete and didn’t get his first B in a class until his sophomore year while treating his disease.
“He was a real hard worker at school. He was even doing homework two weeks before he died,” Boston said. “He definitely took it the best he could and kept fighting.”
But the disease spread rapidly. A stroke in the fall of 2005 made Jarrett lose control of his right arm and left leg. He had a seizure just days before dying on Feb. 22, 2006 and they found 14 tumors on his brain.
Some of Boston’s fondest memories of his brother are car rides with him, feeling like the cool kid with his older brother. Jarrett also spent time with Boston on his homework. The guidance seemed to help. Boston has a 3.95 grade-point average.
“He had a very guiding type personality, so he was always helping me with school work. He was really smart,” Boston said.
Jarrett was slated to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2005 on a team that featured all-county standouts and Jarrett’s best friends — T.J. Greenstone, Kurt Diel and Michael Young. The Eagles were 13-9 during Jarrett’s junior and senior seasons and honored him by having his jersey at every game.
“He was always real good,” Boston said. “He’s very smart, so his reads were always really good.”
Boston grew up playing quarterback just like his older brother. He was the starting JV quarterback last season. However, with last year’s varsity starter Taylor Heinicke back, the Eagles’ coaching staff found another position for Boston at defensive back.
“We needed to get him on the field somewhere,” first-year Collins Hill coach Kevin Reach said. “We moved him to the defensive side of the ball and he’s gotten better every week.”
Boston made his first start against No. 2-ranked North Gwinnett this year. It was a rough first game, but since then he’s settled into his role. After starting the year 1-3, Collins Hill has won the last three games and the defense has improved with Boston in the lineup.
“It was definitely a big change. The speed of the game is a lot faster. You have to adapt,” Boston said. “That was not a good start. I felt like we could have won every one of those close games. We didn’t have that final edge to win. Once we got rolling with wins it came to us.”
Boston has made 32 tackles this season, proudly wearing his No. 10 jersey. It was Jarrett’s number and was retired by the football program. But assistant coach John Alexander presented the idea to Boston and Reach about wearing it this season.
“I didn’t even think they were going to do it,” Boston said. “Just knowing I was the only one that was going to be able to wear it was very special.”
The number will likely be passed down to Boston’s younger brother Flinn, a 10th-grader in the football program, when he graduates next year.
Until then, Conner will keep talking to Jarrett. Asking for advice before and after every play.
“I’m still talking to him,” Boston said. “I think how he’s going to help me out.”