Darius Echols' life was forever changed on Jan. 28, 2012, when he returned from a movie and learned his older brother, Desmond Wright, had committed suicide.
Wright, who also was Echols' best friend and role model, died in the family's home and was found by his mother, Lynda Lemons.
Tragedy struck Echols' life again Dec. 30 that same year -- just a day before his 14th birthday -- when his father, Harold Echols, died after suffering a heart attack.
Darius Echols thinks about his brother and father every day, and they are the freshman's inspiration to do his best while competing for the Centennial High School wrestling team. Wright was a senior on the team when he died.
"My life completely changed the day I lost my brother and I felt a lot of denial, guilt, anger and sadness about it," Echols said. "When I lost my father, it was another really rough time in my life, but I never felt like giving up because I wanted to stay strong for everyone else in my family.
"Sports have helped me cope with this a lot, because sports are something my brother and I did together, and my dad was a huge supporter of me playing football and wrestling. Now with everything I do, I try my best because I believe my dad and my brother are watching over me like guardian angels, and I want to make them proud."
Wrestling at 220 pounds mostly against juniors and seniors, Echols entered the week 10-10 overall.
"Darius will get stronger as he matures, but he's already one of the strongest guys on our team," coach Phillip Farmer said. "He's a smart kid and he's there at every practice, always asking questions about what he can do to get better. He's still learning how to wrestle, but the talent is there, and I believe he will be one of the top wrestlers in the City League when he gets a few years of experience under his belt."
Echols became interested in playing football and wrestling after watching his brother compete in those sports.
Even though he was more than four years younger than Wright, Echols said he and his brother were inseparable, attending each other's football games, going to movies and lifting weights together.
After Wright began playing football and wrestling at Centennial, he even drove his younger brother to some of his practices.
"We did everything together and people would always say that they had never seen brothers that were so close, the way we were," Echols said. "Des was the most important person in my life and he's the reason I started playing football.
"He was a remarkable person, so strong and with so much energy. When he passed away, there was an outrageous amount of people at his funeral because so many people loved him."
Wright's funeral was held at Brentnell Community Center, and after discovering the facility had a recreational wrestling program, Echols decided he would honor his brother by signing up to compete.
"Before he passed away, I told my brother that I was going to wrestle someday," Echols said. "When I finally found a team I could wrestle for, I started doing it right away and it was the first step I took in trying to make my brother proud of me. My dad came to all of my wrestling events, which was a blessing because I got to spend more time with him before he passed."
Echols made an immediate impact on Centennial's football team this past fall, starting all but two games at outside linebacker and several games on the offensive line as a guard.
Wright competed in a wrestling tournament at 220 for the Stars the day he died, and Echols continues to wear his brother's headgear when he wrestles.
"It's an honor to wear my brother's headgear and wrestle in his same weight class," Echols said. "It's a personal goal to become as strong as he was and to wrestle well in his place."
Echols said he weighed 208 pounds last week. He is trying to lose enough to compete at 195 by the end of the season.
"My goals are to get down to 195, win the Golden Grappler (on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at Whetstone) and to place in the top three in the City League tournament (Feb. 8 at Briggs)," he said.
"Before I graduate, I'd like to make it to district or even the state tournament."
To honor his brother, Echols also would like to become a personal trainer.
"I spent a lot of time with my brother in the weight room and that's where I feel at the most peace," he said. "I always look forward to going to the weight room because it feels like my brother's still there and it's a place where we can spend time together."
Boys basketball team stays on roll
The boys basketball team went 2-0 in City-North Division games last week to extend its winning streak to five and improve to 8-6 overall and 6-3 in the league before playing Northland on Jan. 21.
The Stars beat Columbus International 91-48 on Jan. 14, as Joe Thomas scored 21 points, Gyai Gyamerah had 20, Octavius Luke scored 14, Anthony Slappy had 12 and Jeremy Johnson added 11.
On Jan. 17, Centennial defeated Beechcroft 79-63, as Thomas scored 26 points, Gyamerah scored 21, Luke had 13 and Slappy had 11.
Girls basketball team earns two blowout wins
The girls basketball team won two league games last week to improve to 10-5 overall and 9-1 in the City-North before playing Northland on Jan. 21.
The Stars defeated International 98-11 on Jan. 14, as Marissa Robertson scored 21 points, DeAuja Thompson had 19, Alyssa Dean scored 16 and Akiya Brown had 12.
Centennial also beat Beechcroft 70-34 on Jan. 17, as Dean and Izzi Luaces each scored 17 points and Brown and Thompson each scored 10.