Berkmar senior defensive lineman and left guard Averee Giles has kept a positive attitude through tragedies and struggles during his high school career. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
It’s not a wide, toothy one. It’s not sly or smug. He doesn’t show you both layers of teeth or turn up one side of his mouth in arrogance. There’s no motivation behind it. Simply, it’s a smile.
There it is, the last week of practice in a disappointing season, again, at Berkmar and one of its seniors, Averee Giles, stands with his teammates smiling. It’s genuine, its veracity understood even as it’s impossible to explain. It’s not a saccharine, have-a-nice-day or empty, nice-to-meet-you smile. It’s an expression from a foundation of peace and inner calm.
“He’s a happy kid,” Berkmar head coach Jonathan Sanks.
Darkness can’t bear the light.
For Giles, his smile shines through plenty of his own darkness. There are the football struggles. He lost his sophomore season to a knee injury and wasted his junior year away on the Peachtree Ridge junior varsity trying to transfer to the Lions from Berkmar. It cost the 6-foot-1, 330-pound defensive lineman two seasons of film to show colleges after starting as a freshman at Berkmar.
But the real darkness for Giles extends beyond football or any game or school. During spring break his freshman year, Giles’ brother, Cristopher, was hit by a car. It took two days, but the impact killed his 9-year-old brother. Before he could drive, Giles was sitting at the hospital, hearing the doctors’ reports to his family and, eventually, helping plan much of his sibling’s funeral.
“I didn’t take it as hard as my family,” said Giles, still moved to tears talking about Cristopher. “My sister and my mother and stuff. To me, it was how much I had to help them. When it happened, I had to help them.”
Giles continues to honor his brother with a tattoo on his left shoulder. But rather than wallow in the memory of his loss, Giles takes his coach’s advice.
“We try to preach, ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself because no one is going to feel sorry for you,’” Sanks said. “Everybody has a story. You just have to try to turn every negative into a positive.”
Giles won’t concede the easy narrative about the loss making him stronger or forcing him to mature faster than his classmates. Rather, Giles said, he looks at his peers with empathy.
“I try not to think about it, especially around here (at Berkmar),” Giles said. “Not saying this is a rougher part of town, but it seems like every kid in this school has their own tragedy that they have been through. I just try my best to not think about it. I have a lot of positive things.”
Positives like the letters and uptick in college interest during his senior season. Positives like helping direct a Berkmar defense which gave up nearly 300 yards a game on the ground his freshman year into one of the county’s better run-stuffers. Positives like a healthy knee and seeing his opponents treat his abilities with respect.
“When you played Berkmar in the past, you were going to be shells, shoulder pads and a helmet all week, go play the game, put 60 points up on them,” said Giles, a part of Gwinnett County football since he was 6. “This year it seemed like everybody came out and it’s been a fight every game.”
The scoreboard says most of those fights went to the opponent. Giles knows that. He can run through the mistakes and injuries which limited a hopeful Patriots team this season. But even in the recap, it’s the good he highlights. There was the 3-0 start, the calls from friends on other teams impressed with the film they watched of Berkmar and the post game interactions with other coaches, something new to Giles.
“You walk off the field at the end of the game and we might have lost the game and everybody walks up to you, the head coach of the other team comes and finds you out of the crowd and tells you how good of a game you had, it just feels good,” Giles said. “It would feel better if we get the win and that would happen. I try to take the positive things from my senior year and not look at the negative things as much.”
And with that, out comes his smile.
“He ain’t going to fake you out,” Sanks said. “What you see is what you get.”