Pine Bluff senior kicker Austin McGehee already knows what number he’s going to wear when he suits up for the Purdue Boilermakers in the fall.
“I’m going to wear No. 16 for him at Purdue next year,” McGehee said. “I’ll wear it for the next four years, and if I make it to the NFL, I’ll wear it then. …
“Most of the time a number is just a number, but in this case it means a lot more.”
The number 16 means a lot more to McGehee because it was the high school football jersey number of his best friend.
That best friend was former Star City football player Zack Towers who died Wednesday at a hospital in Little Rock about 15 months after suffering a severe brain injury during a game.
McGehee attended Star City High School from eighth to 10th grade and said he and Towers, who was a year older, became friends instantly.
“Ever since I had been there,” McGehee said of how long they’d been friends. “He was my go-to guy.
“He was my best friend.”
Like most friends, McGehee said they bonded over similar interests.
“We had everything in common,” he said. “I would pick him up when he was down and he would pick me up when I was down.
“We could have fun doing the little things like just hanging out at home. You really can’t do that with a lot of friends.”
Even after McGehee began attending Pine Bluff, he and Towers still saw each other all the time.
“Oh yeah, we hung out like every day,” McGehee said. “We went on vacation with each other’s family, so we went to the beaches twice a year.
“I was very fortunate to have been in his life.”
McGehee said he was with Towers’ family when contacted by The Commercial on Wednesday night.
“I’m so close to his family even now,” he said. “He comes from a great home. …
“They’re just such good people.”
McGehee said he was blown away by the support the Star City community showed for Towers and his family.
“This town has just rallied around him,” McGehee said. “I think it taught everyone a valuable lesson.
“Bad things happen to good people, so just spend everyday like it could be your last.”
McGehee was especially impressed by the support shown by those who didn’t even know Towers.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” he said. “He got so much support from people that didn’t know him but knew what a good kid he was.
“I never expected the community to rally around him like they did.”