A little after 9 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, on Woodrow Circle in Statesboro — Jeremy Scott's life changed forever.
Twenty four hours earlier, Scott was in the lineup at offensive line in Statesboro's 42-6 Homecoming win over The Academy of Richmond County. The night after the big victory, he was driving with his cousins near Cone Homes, enjoying the win.
Cruising along, Scott came to a stop when a crew of classmates blocked his path. As he turned to the window on his left, Scott heard shots and was hit by a paintball in the left eye. Moments later, he was in the hospital with only one thing on his mind.
"All I could think about was football," he said. "My whole football career could be over — everything that I had worked for."
His eye swollen shut, Scott said it wasn't until the next day when a specialist gave him a full examination did he discover the seriousness of his injury. The prognosis wasn't encouraging.
"They told me I might be able to see again — or I might not," he said.
Examining the case
It's a disturbing trend that's become a part of Homecoming Week for Statesboro students. What started several years ago as a friendly rivalry between seniors and juniors has evolved into quick-strike attacks with paintball guns.
Just this past Monday, seven students were arrested, including one member of the Statesboro football team, on criminal trespassing charges. At 11:20 p.m., two cars drove by a neighborhood house shooting paintballs, throwing eggs and toilet paper, striking the house and the vehicles parked out front. No one was injured.
"Sunday evening we did a call-out message to parents informing them that we had Homecoming activities planned here at the school and in no way was this junior-senior war part of it," said SHS principal Marty Waters. "We did encourage parents if they catch kids vandalizing to prosecute them and call law enforcement. Monday morning we did the same, we told our kids it's not appropriate, it is breaking the law and you are subject to being arrested. Then Monday night, lo-and-behold, we have seven arrested for spraying a house with paintballs."
It was during Homecoming Week in 2007 when Scott was a victim of a similar incident. Scott told police that five males blocked off his path with another car, then began firing paintballs at his vehicle.
A soft-spoken left tackle for the Blue Devils, Scott said he's almost positive he knows who his assailant was, pinning down the gunmen's class at the time, dress on the night of the attack and association with one of the school's athletic team's. Almost one full year later, however, no arrest has been made.
"It got to a point to where our investigation had to conclude it as an unfortunate accident," said Statesboro Detective Keith Holloway. "We don't believe there was any intent. It just all boils down to this juniors-vs.-seniors stuff."
Holloway went on to add Scott himself may have visited the area earlier that evening, but it's not clear if Scott was involved in the junior-senior rivalry. Despite having some strong leads in the case, Holloway said no witnesses gave enough evidence for any arrests to be made.
Lisa Deloach, Scott's mother, said she's frustrated authorities were unable to make any arrests, but she still hopes someone will step forward on their own.
"I just wish someone would take the responsibility," she said. "But no one has. There was a name out there — but what do you do when there's just a name? I was to the point that if someone just stepped up and apologized and agreed to help with some of the medical bills... football is Jeremy's passion, when that happened, they took his passion."
Scott offered one word to describe his feelings to the final result of his case: "Angry."
Hoping to see again
The incident did cause Scott to lose sight in his left eye and cost him the rest of his junior campaign. He said it was especially tough sitting at home listening to the call on the radio.
"I just kept thinking about how I could be out there helping my teammates," he said.
Instead, Scott was making trips to Savannah and Augusta, seeing up to three eye specialists at a time during the school week. He's had two surgeries to this point, losing his pupil and iris. He's scheduled to have cornea transplant surgery later in December — a surgery that could help restore his sight one day. Scott has already postponed the procedure once so he could play his senior year of football.
"I just kept telling my momma I was going to play," Scott said. "She was pretty scared that I'd get hurt, but she's becoming more lenient."
Scott said his day-to-day routine after the incident was rough at first, but now he feels back to normal. On the football field there's only a minimal amount of plays where he loses sight of a defender, such as traps or pulls where he moves laterally to the right.
"Sometimes, the coaches get on me during film sessions: 'Why didn't you pick up that block!'" Scott said, smiling. "It's because I couldn't see."
Looking to the future
Scott, now a senior listed at 6-foot, 260 pounds, came to spring football practice determined to play under the lights on Friday's. Doctors, however, said it would be best if he went without contact during spring drills.
"Some of his doctors told him he'd never play football again," said Deloach. "He told me as long as he had faith in God he was going to play again. But I was like, 'That's it! I only have one Jeremy and I'm not going to risk losing you out on a football field.'"
But Deloach has come to be supportive of Scott's efforts. Scott, a drummer in the church band, promised his mother he would play again and is determined to play at the next level.
"I plan on going to college," Scott said confidently. "I plan on getting everything fixed with my eye and hopefully I can play college football."
Scott's father and brother attend Statesboro home games, but Deloach has yet to watch Scott in person. She has watched one game via an Internet broadcast on statesboroherald.com and has listened to the others on the radio.
Tonight, however, when Statesboro faces Effingham County for Homecoming, there may be an extra pair of eyes in the stands. Deloach said earlier in the week she may make her first trip to Womack Field to watch Scott live out his dream as a high school football player — a dream that one year ago was nearly shutout forever.
If you have any information about Scott's case, please call the Statesboro Police Department at (912) 764-5468.