Bryce Gowdy Even at 3 a.m., Bryce Gowdy couldn’t sleep. Curling into an easy chair in a corner of their hotel room, he watched his brother fall onto one bed and Shibbon Winelle shivers on the other.
Normally, Bryce would share her bed with her, but she wasn’t feeling well. Even after cranking up the thermostat to its highest setting, it wasn’t warm enough inside; so she asked him: Can you get my favorite pink blanket from the car?
On December 18, 2019, Shibbon and her three boys
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17-year-old bryce gowdy, 16-year-old Brayden, and 12-year-old Brisai — had almost succumbed to homelessness. For months prior, they had camped out in cars, friends’ houses, barbershops, and hotels when they were lucky.
Shibbon had dropped Brisai off with a friend and exchanged her last few dollars for some rest here. Unfortunately, they checked in after midnight, meaning when they checked out in the morning they would have nowhere else to go.
Bryce knew exactly where his future lay. A star wide receiver for Deerfield Beach High, he was days away from leaving Florida on a full-ride scholarship to Georgia Tech.
The cost-of-attendance stipend included with his scholarship might have been the lifeboat for his struggling family; an NFL contract in three or four years could have been the wind that carried them back home.
Bryce Gowdy was struggling to cope with the cost. Few people knew about his family’s plight, and when he confided in coaches and friends, he expressed that he couldn’t imagine enjoying Division I life while his family struggled for safety.
Bryce sent his last text message from his phone to Cammie, simply saying: “I feel stuck.” She asked what that meant and he didn’t respond; when she called to ask what that meant, Bryce didn’t answer either.
As he left to get his mother’s blanket from the hotel room window, bryce gowdy left both his phone and wallet on the windowsill as well as leaving slides underneath chairs so he could come back without needing a key. Instead of coming back inside, however, Bryce ventured further into the freezing night and onto train tracks where he ultimately took his life.
Shibbon was startled awake hours later by the sound of her son’s footsteps outside. A year later, Shibbon still doesn’t understand why he never returned.
Bryce had a difficult childhood. He didn’t meet his father, Frankie Gowdy, until his fourth birthday party. That year his mother married the father of her youngest son and moved the family to Texas; when this man became abusive — Bryce would later write poetry about seeing him put a gun to her head — they fled back to Florida where Bryce found football for himself.
Frankie had been Deerfield Beach’s star quarterback in the mid-90s, but his academic status never allowed him to attend college. On the contrary, Bryce would race from practice to the library to borrow biographies and strategy books – determined to succeed where his father had fallen short.
Bryce suffered his first concussion
Bryce suffered his first concussion at 11, and after months of being sidelined, he told his mom he didn’t see the point in living anymore.
Though there is still debate as to whether there is a connection between concussions and depression, studies show a higher likelihood of depression among those who have repeated concussions and those with a family history of mental illness.
Shibbon had been suicidal for years before recovering through intensive therapy – Shibbon put her son into counseling right away!
By high school, Bryce’s home life had settled. His dad Shibbon worked a 9-to-5 job at a catalog company and they didn’t have much money but that didn’t deter Bryce who enjoyed bragging about how fast he could type on his T9-enabled flip phone,
earning everyone to call his beat-up Charger “Hellcat.” Enrolling in the International Baccalaureate program, he began becoming socially aware; rapping about the American Dream while growing long dreads like his idol
J.Cole whose nickname also referenced him
He hoped people would stereotype him so he could surprise them with his intellect.
“He was the go-to for advice,” Avery Johnson remarked. “Whether it was about school or girls – whatever it was, he always knew exactly what to say. He was just… wise.”
His football skills were equally as sharp, running routes like they had been drawn in the grass. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he could use his size to take down cornerbacks on running plays while never dropping passes even with two or three defenders draped over him. By November 2017, Syracuse offered him his first scholarship offer; by junior season he had seven more.