In this 2009 file photo, Buford's Devin Durden signed a national letter of intent to play football at Air Force.
Devin Durden spent the bulk of his early life in rural Dade County, the part of Georgia nestled up against Tennessee and Alabama.
Always full of energy, he used to race around the local high school's basketball court when his father Gene was a basketball coach for the Wolverines. The area was Appalachian country, where people speak with a different vernacular from what folks in Buford were used to when Durden moved to the area as a high school freshman.
The accent didn't stop Durden, who passed away Thursday morning after a tragic motorcycle accident last week, from adjusting quickly to his new high school, though. He was the kind of kid who never lacked for friends.
"My first memories of Devin are of this competitive, long-necked, ninth-grade quarterback from Dade County who added sounds and syllables to our cadence that none of us had ever heard before," said Buford head football coach Jess Simpson, who coached Durden. "It took him no time to make great friends in Buford and to make an impact in our program."
That same Buford community, along with friends in Dade County and beyond, mourned the loss of the 21-year-old, who died at 3:15 a.m. on Thursday. Severely injured in a Sept. 26 motorcycle wreck close to Ga. Hwy. 20 and Gravel Springs Road near the Mall of Georgia, Durden had fought valiantly for more than a week in the ICU at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Though the accident, which occurred when a car pulled out in his path, severed his spine, Durden came off the ventilator, spoke the words "Christian" and "let's go home" and squeezed his father's hands. He underwent surgery to repair a broken femur and his spine, but returned to the ventilator when he contracted pneumonia in both lungs and a possible infection.
Durden's passing is the latest news in a tragic time for the Buford community. Beloved coach Ryan Daniel died in January after collapsing during a pick-up basketball game and just more than two weeks ago popular student Adam Smith passed away after he collapsed after a basketball practice.
The Durdens are a huge part of the Wolves' family, sending all of their children through Buford High School. Devin is the oldest of four children of Gene and Cherie Durden. Gene Durden also is Buford's head girls basketball coach.
"Our hearts are breaking for Gene and his family but it’s amazing to see our Buford Community shower them with love and care," Simpson said. "We will forever miss Devin and he will always be a part of our Buford family."
Durden was a 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end on the football field, playing three seasons at Air Force before deciding recently to enlist for active duty. He also played high school basketball for the Wolves, but made his biggest mark in football.
The 2009 Buford grad and three-time scholar-athlete was a key player on the Wolves’ 2007 and 2008 state championship football teams.
"Devin was an unbelievable young man who possessed a strong will, a fun loving spirit, and a servant’s heart," Simpson said. "He was the kind of person that could make friends with anyone and would go out of his way to make you feel special. Within seconds of being around Devin, he was going to have you laughing and put a smile on your face."
Twitter rapidly filled with messages of sorrow and support for the Durdens, a beloved family in Buford and in Dade County. A Facebook page dedicated to the Durden quickly surged over 3,000 likes.
"I love you @ddurden087, so much. I’m going to miss you. You were the best brother and I know you’ll be looking over us. #RestInPeace," Devin's brother Coby posted on Twitter.
His other younger brother, Christian, posted "You fought hard bro. I'll see you again one day. Rest in peace I love you so much. #myguardian Devin Durden, Jan 7th 1991- Oct 4th 2012."
Visitation for Durden will be from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Flanigan’s Funeral Home, and the funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at Buford First Baptist Church.
"Devin was an incredibly passionate young man who we loved dearly," Buford High School principal Banks Bitterman said. "Coach Durden and his family are amazing people with incredible love and strength. They our in prayers and thoughts."
"Devin was an extremely fun-loving individual and others always enjoyed his company," Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby wrote in an email to the school system. "He was a very positive and pleasant young man with a tremendous personality."