FOREST, Miss. — They were best friends. No, they were more than that. They were brothers.
Diwun Black and Landon McGee did everything together. They drank Minute Maid fruit punch and rode a horse Landon got for his birthday. They played NBA2K and Madden NFL on an Xbox 1. Black would wear Landon’s clothes then lose them. But Landon never said he couldn’t borrow more.
They played football together, too. Members of the same team, they met on a football field when Black was 13 and Landon was 12. Landon played nose tackle and Black played linebacker.
Their first game together, Black told Landon to run a cross blitz through the center of the offensive line. Landon ran right. Black ran left. The play worked to perfection. The guard didn’t know who to block. Landon hit the quarterback’s legs and Black came over the top. After the play, they jumped in the air and bumped chests.
“When we fell we both hit the ground together,” said Black, a four-star athlete who flipped his commitment from Ole Miss to Florida Thursday. “It was funny.”
The brothers became inseparable. They later found out they were cousins, too. They dreamed they would play at Forest, win multiple state championships and one day go pro. They loved each other.
On February 21, 2016, Black was playing in a basketball tournament in Jackson. Deep inside his bag, his phone rang repeatedly. When the game ended he returned a call from Landon’s sister, Orlandria. All he heard was sniffling.
“Whatcha crying for?” Black said.
“Landon died,” Orlandria said.
Black hung up the phone. He didn’t believe her. He couldn’t believe her. It wasn’t possible. Not Landon. Black retreated to a back room in the gym and went on Facebook.
“All I saw was RIP. RIP. RIP Landon,” Black said. “I just sat there.”
Landon’s father, Orlando, called. He confirmed what Black already knew to be true. Black dropped the phone. Anger consumed him. He banged his hand against a wall. He found a brick and smashed it against his leg. Tears rolled down his face. Teammates heard. A coach came in and grabbed him, hugged him and took him to the hospital for the blood running down his leg.
Black and Landon hadn’t seen each other in two days. They planned to hang out when Black returned to Forest after the basketball tournament.
“What hurt me the most was I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Black said. “… That’s the day I found out you can go any second. I can’t see him no more.”
Black found out later what happened.
“There was a gun in the car,” Forest head coach Jonathan Worrell said. “He picked it up, was messing with it, didn’t know it was loaded and it went off.”
Landon McGee was 14 years old.
Before Landon died, Black wanted a gun. Not anymore. He used to go hunting for deer with his cousin. Not anymore. If he’s in a car and his friends have a gun, he gets out of the car. He doesn’t hold water guns or BB guns.
“I don’t like guns around me,” Black said.
After Landon died, Black’s attitude soured. He didn’t want to be bothered. He retreated within himself. He avoided Landon’s family because seeing them made him cry and if he cried, they cried, too.
Black was mad, and he channeled his rage onto the football field, where he recorded 159 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons while intercepting 12 passes as a sophomore and catching 16 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.
“What makes him special is he would prefer to go to defense and tackle you knowing he can come to the offensive side of the ball,” Worrell said.
Black thinks about Landon a lot, mostly at night. He hasn’t fully processed Landon’s death, and he may never do so. Whenever Black picks up an Xbox controller he remembers Landon. Sometimes, when he’s playing a video game, he stops playing because he starts thinking about Landon, and he remembers everything they did together, like a flashback inside his mind. He cries for a minute, buries his feelings, then resumes the game.
He also tells his siblings he loves them every day because he didn’t get to tell Landon before he died.
When Landon died, Black covered his arms in tattoos. One, on his right forearm, says “For him I risk it all. My brother’s keeper.” Landon will be a part of Black forever. Black still loves his brother.
“Landon would want you to make it to the NFL like y’all talked about,” Orlando told Black. “Don’t give up on your dream, Landon’s looking down on you. He wants you to succeed in life.”