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July 28, 2012
Akeem Jones hasn't slept in three days. He has sat in hotel rooms. He has cried instead of resting. He knows that has to stop.
"Crying ain't going to solve anything or bring my friend back," he said.
Paul Royal was shot 16 times Tuesday in Miami Gardens. Friends said he was an innocent bystander. No one seems to know who the killer was.
For Jones and a handful of other Carol City players in attendance at Florida's Friday Night Lights camp, "P.J." Royal was a teammate and a best friend.
They were all easy to spot Friday, even though they were amongst hundreds of kids trying to make an impression on Florida's coaching staff. It wasn't just the "RIP #10" headbands they wore. It was in the way they competed, took leadership roles within their groups and performed. Carol City players danced, jumped up and down and didn't drop their heads until they were asked about their fallen teammate on a Gainesville sidewalk.
"That's the type of kid he was," Jones said. "He was an exciting kid, always smiling. He was the kid to kick it and laugh with everybody. He was a fun kid. For us to lose one of our friends, it hurts bad. It hurts real bad."
It wasn't about the rankings or recruiting cycles. Carol City has just one 2013 prospect with a star rating from Rivals right now, three-star defensive back Simeon Thomas the lone candidate. Royal himself was a 2012 prospect who was just a few days away from moving to a new life in Jacksonville as a football player at Edward Waters College.
But this was about the harsh realities of life in a violent part of South Florida. A place where a murderer is on the loose and kids shake it off as a situation that is "in God's hands."
Jones was confident his friend was watching down on him Friday. He won the fastest camper award at the end of the night. He was named best quarterback despite touting skills most would call raw.
He knew it was something he had to do for Royal. The shooting helped him realize the kind of opportunity he has and that there is so much upside in life, even in an extremely dangerous neighborhood.
"I'm chasing two dreams now. It's not about me no more," Jones said. "I know he's smiling, he's shining all over me."