Off the Gridiron: Gibson Southern football pays tribute to fallen Iraq war vet

Sports

FORT BRANCH, Ind. (WEHT) – Just 20 years ago, America was forever changed by the tragic attacks on September 11th, 2001.

That fateful day prompted a war on terror that spanned two decades. More than 7,000 U.S. service members lost their lives in that fight, including Owensville, Indiana native James Brown.

Brown was an inside linebacker on Gibson Southern’s football team. A senior captain and an All-Conference player, Brown graduated from Gibson Southern in 2005.

“Whether it be busting up a run or shedding a block or deflecting a pass, the guy was just unblockable on the field,” said Brown’s brother, Dillen Friend.

But as prolific as he was on the football field, Brown had a different calling: the battle field.

“His senior year, before he even graduated he already talked about joining the Marines,” said Gibson Southern assistant coach Dan Deer. “He wanted to be a Marine; he wanted to defend our country, and he wanted to just be that guy.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered to James if Ohio State or Notre Dame or Alabama gave him a football scholarship,” Friend said. “He knew what he was going to do. And there was nothing that was going to change that.”

And so, after graduating high school in 2005, he joined the United States Marine Corps. By 2006, Brown was promoted to lance corporal and deployed to Iraq in July.

But just four months later, while standing sentry duty at this post, tragedy struck. 20-year-old James Brown was shot and killed by a single gunshot to his head.

It was a loss that devastated the Gibson County community, including his 14-year-old brother Dillen.

“It never really goes away,” Friend continued. “I think about him every single day, and I have for the last 15 years. But it’s turned to pride. And I’m very proud of what he did, and I’m very proud of the life he lived and the type of person he was.”

However, James Brown’s legacy still lives on at Gibson Southern High School. Shortly after his death, the football program honored Brown with a plaque and a rock that bears his name.

But they also created a tradition. Every time players enter or exit Jack Jewell Memorial Field, the Titans tap the rock to remember the sacrifice that Brown made.

“The bottom line is that’s more important than football, and that’ll last longer than our football lives,” said senior lineman Ryan Holzmeyer. “It’s about faith and community, and being together, and sticking together and doing what’s right.”

“James was killed before some of these young men were even born,” Friend said. “And the fact that they do that every time they run out on that field is incredible.”

Fifteen years after his death, the Gibson Southern coaching staff believes it’s important to honor one of their own. That attitude has trickled down to the players themselves. Holzmeyer helped plan a military night on Friday, Sept. 24 to honor veterans in Gibson County. Friend will address the locker room that night to tell Brown’s story.

“We want everybody to understand that that’s not just a symbol over there,” Deer said. “That’s a person that we’re honoring. We all want to emulate that guy. We want to be a strong leadership-type individual, and play the sport for our team and for our community.”

It’s more than just a rock. It’s a reminder to every Titans player to attack each snap with the same courage that James Brown showed when he gave his life for our country.

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