SUFFOLK, Va. - Anyone who knew Jaquan Yulee said he shined brighter than the Friday night lights.
"Everybody around here in the Tidewater area knows Yulee - No. 2," said his grandmother, Janice Copeland.
The 24-year-old made quite the name for himself over the years, dominating the football field for both Lakeland and Indian River High Schools before going on to play linebacker for Marshall University.
"He just wanted to play football - that's what he lived for, and that's all he talked about," said former coach, friend and father figure Glenwood Ferebee.
Tragedy struck Tuesday night in Suffolk when Yulee died after his vehicle flipped onto its roof on Leafwood Road near South Quay Road. He was the vehicle's only occupant, police said.
The rising star was less than half a mile from his house. When his dad, Fred, got there, it was already too late.
"I had to see him. You gonna tell me that something is wrong with my child? I have to see him," Fred Yulee told News 3 reporter Erin Miller. "I rubbed his head, kissed him on the forehead and I closed his eyes, and I said, 'No more.'"
As great as a football player Jaquan was, Fred said he was an ever better son, always putting family first.
"Not only was he my son, but he was one of my best friends. If you see me, you know he's somewhere near," he said.
With a smile on his face, Fred recalled one way Jaquan would always make him smile.
"When I came home from work, I was tired - he would hop up on me in the bed and say, 'Dad' and I'd say, 'What?' '[It's] father-son fun time.'"
Friend and former teammate LaMareon James recalled Jaquan's fighter spirit. Even after suffering a spinal injury in 2019 that caused him to undergo multiple surgeries and rehabilitations, Jaquan didn't quit.
"What made him an even better person is, like, the stuff that he been through. He could have given up, but he kept pushing," said James.
Family said he was just cleared to return to the field and was planning on announcing which HBCU he would transfer to. The announcement was rescheduled from Friday so Jaquan could celebrate his 24th birthday.
"He was supposed to do a video today of him working out lifting weights, and then at the end he was going to wipe his face with his shirt and he was going to come back up and pull the Virginia State shirt," Fred said.
Virginia State University held special meaning in Jaquan's heart because it was his grandmother's alma matter. She recalls the moment her grandson received his degree from Marshall University in the mail.
"When he came in, I said, 'Oh, by the way - you got some thing from Marshall today,' and he opened it up and it was his degree, so he came over and handed it to me and said, 'Here’s your degree,'" Copeland said.
In a tweet, Marshall University called the 24-year-old "exemplary."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of former Marshall football student-athlete Jaquan Yulee," the university tweeted. "His energy and ability to connect with so many in our fanbase was exemplary. He will be missed by so many in the Thundering Herd."
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of former Marshall football student-athlete Jaquan Yulee. His energy and ability to connect with so many in our fanbase was exemplary. He will be missed by so many in the Thundering Herd. pic.twitter.com/ccnMotdOes
— Marshall Football (@HerdFB) July 14, 2021
Reflecting on their relationship, former coach Ferebee said, "The relationship was bigger than football with me and him. We talked about life outside of football - his life goals and things like that. It's still unreal at this point. It's still unreal at this point because I had just talked to him two days prior to yesterday."
Ferebee, whose brother is the current head coach at Indian River, said the current players asked to retire the No. 2.
"The kids approached him about it. They said, 'Coach, we don't want to wear No. 2 anymore.' So, that just says a lot about these kids and how [Yulee] impacted that community," Ferebee said.
Romon Copeland Jr. told News 3 that Jaquan was like his brother, acting as his coach when he played in a 7-on-7 team in middle school.
"He put his blood, sweat and tears in this game of football. When I say a person who always beat the odds and overcome the impossible, that's him," Copeland Jr. said. "He always made sure I was good and made sure my mental was right. Yulee is legendary.. [an] awesome soul to be around."
Adding to the sentiment, James said, "He was a big brother to a lot of people in this community, especially the young guys growing up behind him."
Family said they will miss his goofy personality, ability to make anyone smile and dedication to sports and his education. Fred said Jaquan was on his way to earning his master's degree.
"I'm just gonna miss my Pumpkin - that’s all I can say," he said.
Yulee started at Lakeland High School in Suffolk, then relocated to Indian River High School in Chesapeake for his junior and senior years. He then attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
The cause of the fatal crash is still under investigation.