Tyrone Duplessis died on Feb. 2, 2012, at the age of 21 due to a massive heart attack. This would have been his final season with the Bulldogs.
This was supposed to be Tyrone Duplessis’ year.
A year for greatness. A year for excitement. A year to never forget.
He never got that year.
Duplessis died unexpectedly, long before he got his year. Duplessis, a running back for Tech from 2009-11, would be playing his last
Homecoming game Saturday.
Kendrick James, a senior defensive end, remembers that fateful day vividly.
“I was at home when my mom called me and told me Tyrone was being rushed to the hospital,” James said.
Suffering a major heart attack, Duplessis died on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, after a normal night of a workout and dinner with his fiancée.
“You think to yourself, this doesn’t happen to young people. This doesn’t happen to people like Tyrone,” Sonny Dykes, head football coach for the University of California, Berkley, said in a telephone interview.
Dykes, the head football coach for Tech at the time of Duplessis’ death, said while driving to the hospital he kept thinking to himself that Duplessis would be ok and that he would get through this like he had all his other life obstacles.
Life obstacles were much easier to overcome for Duplessis in high school. The two biggest challenges he faced were a bad knee and his 5-foot-8 body.
“Tyrone always found motivation when challenged,” James said. “Before a game in high school, the other team said how they would stuff the box and stop Tyrone completely. He ran for 300 yards and four touchdowns against them.”
Duplessis and James met in eighth grade at O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans and became best friends. They played football from the time they met all the way into their college careers.
Duplessis’ mother loved watching her son play all of his high school football games.
“Some of my favorite memories of Tyrone are watching him play football,” Mary Duplessis said. “He was so happy and full of life, and watching him out there was so awesome.”
As determined and motivated Duplessis was on the football field, he was equally as relaxed and fun to be around when away from football.
“He was a big jokester,” James said. “A fun guy to be around, he was always pulling practical jokes on everybody he knew. Whether you knew Tyrone or not, you could always laugh with him.”
James said he decided to attend Tech the summer before his senior season. Duplessis, who was undecided at the time, decided to attend Tech with James as they both felt it was an up-and-coming program and saw something special for each of them.
Mary Duplessis said she was excited knowing her son was going to play for Tech.
“Knowing my baby was going play for a school like Tech made me very excited,” Mary Duplessis said.
The excitement for Duplessis to play at Tech extended far from his home though.
“The thing I remember most was that although he wasn’t a big kid, he had a big smile,” Dykes said. “Tyrone embraced opportunity. He had a great sense of humor and a great personality.”
Dykes said that Duplessis was very determined and became even more so after a knee injury forced him to sit out for an entire season.
He was getting ready for his year. He had done everything right. And it was all taken away from him.
With 30-40 players at the hospital when the doctor told them Duplessis had died, everyone was left with a sense of shock.
Dykes recalls that there were so many people around, but nobody knew what to say or what to do.
Through the tragedy of Duplessis’ passing, comfort was found in the outreach of the Tech and Ruston communities.
Mary Duplessis was helped by the support she and her family received after Tyrone’s death.
“I can’t thank Tech and Ruston enough for all the good things, love and support showed to us,” Mary Duplessis said. “I really appreciate it. We know you all enjoyed him and he was always thankful for that.”
The tributes for Duplessis extended far beyond the weeks after his death.
James decided he would change his number to 22 as a tribute to his friend.
“It feels good knowing he is still represented by me,” James said. “Since we were so close, I feel like I’m playing with the ability of two people when I put his jersey on.”
James finds even more support when he looks into the stands during a football game and sees everybody holding up “2s” in the stands.
“It gives me an energy boost seeing the 2s,” James said. “I know this is Tyrone’s quarter, and I get this powerful energy for me to go out there and finish strong.”
The support for Duplessis has been phenomenal at Tech, but has extended to multiple other universities. Deron Wilson, defensive back for the University of Southern Mississippi, and Cortez Johnson, defensive back for the University of Oklahoma, were both teammates of Duplessis and James in high school and both wear number 22 in honor of Duplessis.
“When you graduate high school you expect to distance yourself a little from your good friends,” James said. “But after Tyrone passed, we all started talking a lot more. Cortez, Deron and I talk every other day now. We try to talk as much as we can now because we know how fragile life is and what can happen.”
A year and a half after he died, it finally happened. All of his hard work paid off.
This is Duplessis’ year.
Although the hole in James’ heart will always be there, he knows that Duplessis will be remembered.
James said Duplessis’ smile just made everything better. He could brighten your mood and turn everything better.
“If I could say one last thing to Tyrone, I would tell him that I love you,” James said. “I would tell him thank you for putting all the smiles on the faces he did.”
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