HUNTINGTON - As 2019 starts, Marshall University football player Jaquan Yulee is focused on feeling 'Lo' instead of feeling low.
'Lo' was the nickname of former Thundering Herd defensive tackle Larry Aaron, who passed away Feb. 22, 2018, because of complications following a New Year's gunshot wound that left him paralyzed.
This week, Yulee was back in the weight room working out and going to the indoor facility for conditioning. Much like every time out since that day last February, 'Lo' was on Yulee's mind as he went to improve as a player.
"We are just fighting out here for him and everyone is giving 110 percent every time out," Yulee said. "We keep his name alive, we keep his jersey around and just keep posting about him and letting his family know that we still love him and that his name will forever live through us. He left a big effect on everybody here."
Yulee is doing everything in his power to keep Aaron's memory alive, whether that is sharing videos on social media, wearing a '93' jersey during practices last season or organizing a memorial party for this weekend as a celebration of his former teammate's life.
While the Herd's junior linebacker is looking to turn the negative into a positive, it still doesn't mask the reality of losing a brother both on and off the field that feels like a bad dream.
"Just to see that he's gone, it still don't seem real," Yulee said. "I try my best to keep a smile on my face and try to hide everything, but something like this, you just can't hide."
Part of the pain is the lack of closure for Aaron's parents, Larry and Melissa, that Yulee and his teammates feel each day.
It has been one year since Aaron passed and there are still more questions than answers for the family as to how the shooting happened in Severn, Maryland, at a New Year's party. The Anne Arundel County Sheriff's Department has a $10,000 reward offered for information leading them to the suspect.
While the pain is still there, Yulee keeps moving forward - if for nothing else because that's what he knows 'Lo' would want him to do.
"He'd tell us, 'Don't let his situation stop us from being great and doing what we came here to do,'" Yulee said.
"At the end of the day, if everything is switched over, we'd tell him the same thing too. We wouldn't want any of us to feel down. 'Lo' would tell us to keep our head up, keep fighting and everything would be alright."
That thought keeps Yulee going because there was a time when 'Lo' kept Yulee and Marshall running back Tyler King going with his easy-going nature and fun-loving ways.
The three players came in as non-qualifiers, along with several other players. Joining a program as a non-qualifier is a tough process because, in the players' eyes, the focus is on gaining academic standing while sitting out a year from activities for the sport you love.
Only being able to work out and not being able to go through team activities gets the best of many academic non-qualifiers, as was the case with their group. Of the seven who were academic non-qualifiers that season only three - Aaron, Yulee and King - made it through and reached eligibility. They did so by keeping each other strong.
"We just stuck together and became one," Yulee said.
One of the things that bonded Yulee, Aaron and King was their love for having a good time. They cracked jokes and started impromptu dance battles during weightlifting sessions to help keep the mood light.
"Since we both got here, no matter what, there was always a smile on our face," Yulee said. "Dancing-wise in the weight room, we were our own motivation."
Yulee said he'll never forget one of the final moments they had as a group, which came after the Herd's win in the 2017 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, when Aaron made his mark in reserve duty and showed the potential many people within the program knew he had.
"Me, King and 'Lo', we were all on the plane - we were so tight with each other that we always had to sit together on every trip," Yulee said. "I have a video of me, 'Lo' and King being funny on that plane ride back. It was the last video I have of all of us together."
That video was taken on Dec. 16, 2017.
Fifteen days later, Aaron was shot at the New Year's Party. Just more than two months later, 'Lo' was gone.
For Yulee, it is one of life's toughest lessons being put into reality that the next day is not guaranteed.
But make no mistake, Yulee doesn't plan on wasting that lesson. Whether he wears the No. 2 that he's accustomed to wearing or he puts on the No. 93 in practice in memory of his best friend, Yulee plans to continue to do the things that Aaron did for him - keep a smile on his face, keep his teammates up through struggles and keep moving forward.
Yulee knows moving forward, he's got to keep his energy level high because he's also playing for 'Lo.'