Hundreds of people from the Grand Rapids Christian High School community gathered at the local football field Tuesday to remember one of their own.
Family and friends walked through the gates for John Holmes, a recent Christian graduate and Brown University football commit. The 18-year-old died June 20 in a single-car accident while driving in Ada Township.
Holmes was pronounced dead at the scene around 11 p.m., reports said, but it remains unclear what caused his vehicle to go off the road and overturn. The Kent County Sheriff's Office continues to investigate.
“It was really hard for me and all my buddies, and it still is,” Eason Hardouin, 18, said. “But once we saw this wave of people come to support our friend, it really put us all in a better place and realize that he really left his mark here.”
Holmes was a 6-foot-3, 225-pound lineman that sometimes caught passes as a tight end.
He became close to Hardouin — his quarterback.
They both went to middle schools outside of the Grand Rapids Christian pipeline. They didn't know many people but bonded over being the new kids on the block. A few weeks into freshman football, they started to form a tight-knit friendship.
Together, they won two conference championships.
"He was my lifting partner for as long as I can, well, until he out-lifted me and I couldn’t lift the same weight as him," said Hardouin, who will attend Otterbein University this fall. "I struggled and was really nervous when I first transferred in, but he was just open arms."
The training paid dividends for Holmes, who finished the 2018 season on a high-note before committing to Brown, an Ivy League school. He announced his decision July 23 — his birthday. He called his mom a "rock star," thanked longtime coach Don Fellows and gave a nod to his teachers, teammates, coaches and friends.
Holmes, a two-sport athlete, had a perfect GPA and outstanding test scores. He didn't miss class and wouldn't be late to practice. His friends say he had dreams of advancing in the medical field.
"He was really smart," said teammate Brian Hunter, who is going to be a senior this fall. "He could do whatever he wanted to, but he wanted to go far in the medical field as a doctor."
Hardouin last saw Holmes about a week before the car accident. Holmes invited a group of football players to his house to shoot hoops, toss the football and roll out the grill to cook hot dogs and hamburgers.
"It was the perfect day,” Hardouin said. "You couldn’t write up a more perfect way to be with your friends."
On Sunday morning, shortly after Holmes' accident, someone in the football group chat sent a text message explaining the basics of what had happened the night before. Hunter began "panicking" and "didn't think it was true" when he read the words that flashed across his phone screen.
One of the last memories Hunter has with Holmes came a few days before the accident when the players met up for private workouts. Holmes finally got to congratulate him for earning his first Division I offer, from Valparaiso.
Turns out, Holmes had a prior relationship with the Valparaiso coaching staff and sent Hunter’s highlights to them.
Hunter is never going to forget what his friend did to help him.
"I plan to always remember what he did for me on the basketball court or on the football field," Hunter said. "I’m going to take that and try to go far, not only in sports but in the community around us. I just want to live up to his expectations and go as far as I can."