The first phone call Jake Abraham made this summer when he found out the No. 45 jersey at Georgia Southern belonged to him went to voicemail. Abraham left a message, explaining to the man on the other end that he would finally be wearing a familiar number in blue and white.
His phone soon rang. Jake answered. David Currie spoke first, but he could only muster three words: "I’m in tears."
"It was so heartwarming, I couldn’t even talk to him," David said.
Devon Currie, David’s son, wore the No. 45 while starring for South Forsyth’s football team. Devon, the middle of three brothers, graduated from South in 2006 and went on to play football at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he again wore that number he had been assigned as a high school sophomore. He was the Lions’ most valuable player on special teams as a freshman. He played in all 11 games. He made nine tackles.
Then he developed a rare form of bone cancer. The younger Currie was diagnosed in May 2007 with Ewing’s sarcoma, a disease mostly seen in adolescents that has roughly a 10 percent survival rate.
Devon first complained of back pain in February 2007 and by March had trouble sitting in a chair. The school’s trainer said it was a dislocated rib. Currie went through spring practice and returned home to Forsyth County on his spring break in April. He played his freshman season at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and looked thin when he returned home. The Curries traveled to Hammond, La., in May to move Devon in to a new apartment, and what they saw — a gaunt, 188-pound kid — was cause for concern.
Doctors performed an MRI on May 10, 2007 and found a fist-sized tumor on Devon’s 12th rib. The cancer had metastasized to his femur.
Jake, six years younger than Devon, heard soon after.
"A friend told me to meet him in the hallway, and he broke the news," Jake said. "We just sat on the floor, trying to process that something could possibly be wrong with Devon. When I finally went back to class, I had been out there so long my teacher tried to send me to the principal’s office."
Regardless of what happened between the lines on Friday nights, Devon made a point of going to talk to Jake, now a redshirt sophomore long snapper for Georgia Southern.
"He was the closest thing I had to a big brother," Jake said. "He mentored me when he really didn’t have to and helped me to move past rough practices and games. Not once did I hear him say something negative."
Jake’s father, Jeffrey, said his son’s eyes would light up whenever he saw Devon.
"When he was a senior, every kid wanted to be Devon," former South head coach Greg Slattery said. "He didn’t care how old somebody was; he would talk to anybody who approached him."
Currie led in a way Slattery had never seen out of a high school player.
"You know how coaches can tell kids if they’re doing something right or wrong just by looking at them? Devon could do that," he said. "If I had told my team that one of them absolutely had to get sick, Devon would’ve stepped across that line."
"He was full speed ahead, every day," Jake said. "Coach Slattery put him at scout team running back one practice. A few minutes later, Coach had to tell Devon to tone it down because he was wearing the defense out."
By Thanksgiving of 2008, Devon’s red blood cell count was too low for chemo treatments. Doctors had exhausted all possible treatments. David knew his son’s days were winding down.
David and Devon went to Marietta on Dec. 13 to pick up the black Suzuki 750 motorcycle Devon had picked out and an anonymous South family helped purchase. When the pair spoke to a salesman, they were told the bike would be delivered in a few days.
That wasn’t going to happen.
"Devon was limping around and looked at me with these wide eyes, and I knew," David said. "I told the salesman, ‘We’re leaving with this bike today.’"
Devon rode away on that chilly afternoon in his South Park-themed pajamas, stopping on the ride home for a meal at Jim ‘N Nick’s. He passed away in his bedroom later that evening.
South retired Devon’s No. 45 in August 2009 and honors the Curries every season.
"They haven’t forgotten us," David said.
Jake has the bookmark that was given out at Devon’s funeral in his locker. On the back it reads: "It makes no difference what you do, do it as hard as you can for as long as you can and never give up."
Now, another daily reminder of Devon hangs in Jake’s locker at Southern’s Football Operations Center.
Jake arrived for his first fall camp in Statesboro in July 2012 to find he had been assigned No. 49. He approached then-head coach Jeff Monken about switching to the No. 45 but was rebuffed. It was already taken by a junior punter.
Monken left Southern in December 2013. Willie Fritz arrived from Sam Houston State to lead the Eagles as they transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), college football’s highest level.
Jake used the head coaching change as an opportunity to again broach the subject of switching to No. 45 with Fritz and a few sympathetic equipment managers. They would see what they could do, Jake was told.
"Devon always said, ‘Bring It On,’ even when he was ill," David said. "For Jake to be courageous and approach the coaches with a request like that, it just proved the impact Devon had while he was here and still has today."
Fritz called Jake to his office July 29, one day before Georgia Southern started fall practice, and informed him that he would wear the No. 45 for the Eagles’ season-opener Saturday at N.C. State at 12:30 p.m.
"Jake has a different approach to his life because of his interactions with Devon," Jeffrey said. "I know what he did for Jake and I imagine he did it 1,000 times over."