The Virginia Union University football fans, students, family members, and more are grieving the life of Quandarius “Quin” Wilburn, yet they are also reflecting on a life well-lived. Learn more about the fallen football player from the Augusta Chronicle story by Parish Howard below.

Quandarius “Quin” Wilburn (Credit: Submitted to the Augusta Chronicle)

For Quandarius “Quin” Wilburn, it all ended just when it felt like it was beginning.

In February, as a Jefferson County High School senior, he signed a scholarship to play football at Virginia Union University where he planned to earn a degree in cyber security that would help him take care of his mother and little sisters.

In June, he graduated as a JCHS honor student and weeks later moved to Richmond, Virginia to chase his dream.

In early August, Quin collapsed on that college’s football field during conditioning drills. He was pronounced dead a short time later. 

In the days since, his family and friends have repeatedly asked why as they wrestle with their grief and seek to honor the life of a star that fell too soon. 

Best friend was gone

Ja’kobe “Kobe” Heggs has been one of Quin’s best friends since childhood. They played recreation ball together and later were both on JCHS Warriors’ defensive squad when their senior season ended one game away from a championship bout.

The first time Quin spoke to VUU’s head coach and was offered a scholarship, Kobe was there. They were at Cracker Barrel when Quin’s phone rang.

“He was smiling from ear to ear,” Kobe said.

Quin Wilburn (left) and Kobe Heggs (right) (Credit: Submitted to the Augusta Chronicle)

He and Quin each had offers from other colleges, but Quin believed Virginia Union was the place they needed to be.

“He talked to me about going with him,” Kobe said. “At the time, I didn’t want to. It’s a long way from home. But I weighed the options and one day just thought, why not.”

He had Quin call the VUU coach and in June, Kobe joined the team as a preferred walk on. The two were roommates.

For the first few weeks they attended private workouts, explored campus and dreamed about what their lives would become.

“We were planning to stay here for a couple of years and then transfer to a Division 1 school where we could try to get a shot at the NFL,” Kobe said. “It was fun. We were just starting to enjoy college.”

Fall camp and their first days of conditioning as a team began Aug. 7. The next morning, Sunday, Aug. 8, Quin and Kobe joined the other players and coaching staff for breakfast and a church service on the lawn.

“I guess they were having it outside because of COVID,” Kobe said. “It was hot. The church people were passing out water bottles.”

After the service. the team, still in shorts as they were not to don their equipment until Monday, filed into Hovey Stadium to run drills.

“They had us split up into different groups,” Kobe said. “I had just finished running a lap and I looked back and him and couple other guys were together. We all ran on the same whistle and we were waiting on them to get finished. That’s when I saw him fall.”

At first Kobe did not think it was serious. He watched as they moved Quin to the sideline and then, minutes later, started performing CPR.

“That’s when I knew it was bad,” he said.

Quin was taken by ambulance to VCU Medical Center.

In a team meeting around 6 p.m., they were told that Quin was stabilized, Kobe said. Then, in another meeting around 9:45 p.m., they broke the news that his best friend was gone.

“Like an hour later I came back to the room and the people who are the head of the dorm had already packed his stuff up,” Kobe said a couple of days after Quin’s funeral. “I was in shock I couldn’t believe it. It’s been hard (without him). We basically lived our whole lives together. He meant a lot to me. He was like my real brother and now I have to adapt to living life without him.”

‘He was perfect’

“I know that there’s no such thing as perfect, but he was perfect,” Quin’s mother, Kenyada, said between convulsive sobs. “He was like an angel walking on earth. He was sweet. He was loving. He was caring. He was intelligent. I never heard him raise his voice. I never even saw him angry.”

Kenyada, Keke to her friends, said that she never wanted him to go so far away to school. She begged him not to go. But he told her that it was his dream school, that everything was there, the academics and the athletics, everything he needed to pave his own road to a future that would change all of their lives.

Quin Wilburn and his mother Kenyada Wilburn on the Jefferson County High School Football Field (Credit: Submitted to the Augusta Chronicle)

“He said, ‘Mama, that’s just the best option. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to take care of you and the kids and that is God’s plan, for me to go.’” Kenyada recalls. “He wanted what was best for us.”

His mother said that in the few weeks he was at school, they made time to text and video chat every day. The last time they spoke was the Saturday before he died. She had called him several times before he finally called her back and told her that he had been in team meetings. She wanted him to come home for the weekend, but he told her he could not because practices were just getting started and they were too busy.

Letting him go

In the week after his death, the people who knew Quin have honored him at memorial services where they talked about this strong, quiet, hard-working young man and the impact he had on their lives. During a prayer vigil at the recreation department football field near his mom’s apartment in Wadley, around 100 people gathered. They released blue and star-shaped balloons to try to find a way to let Quin go with them.

“Quin was one of the best young men that this community could produce,” said Mayor Harold Moore who also spoke about their own special relationship as Quin’s godfather.

At the funeral, Saturday, Aug. 14, Moore told more stories about Quin and how much he meant to Moore’s own boys, how Quin served as a peacemaker between them and helped teach his oldest how to be a friend.

“Everybody loved Quin,” Moore said. “The first thing I noticed about Quin was how patient he was … he balanced our boys.”

Moore called him “one of the most respectful young men who ever lived.”

Around 100 area people gathered to release balloons in memory of Quin Wilburn. (Credit: Carol McLeod)

A horse-drawn hearse carried Quin’s casket to the front doors of Jefferson County High School and his funeral was held in the gym where the bleachers were filled with hundreds of people who knew him.

Quin’s short life was called a “blueprint for success.” His principal, his family, his coaches, they all talked about his dedication on and off the football field; how he worked at whatever obstacle was put in front of him until he conquered it.

“If there is one lesson I wish people would learn from Quin, he didn’t react to adverse situations, he responded to them,” said Head Football Coach JB Arnold. “The difference being that he took his time, he thought about it and he gave a great answer.”

Dr. Alvin Parker, Virginia Union’s head football coach, said that after watching Quin’s films and reviewing his transcripts and then hearing about his character, he originally thought the young man might be “too good for us.”

Quin was a star on the field and off it. During his senior season at defensive end he had 42 tackles, 8 sacks and 2 punt block

During their entire first conversation, while Kobe sat across from Quin at that Cracker Barrel, Parker relayed that Quin only ever said two things: yes, sir and no, sir.

“And after he signed, he immediately called to see if he could secure a place for his friend Kobe,” Parker said. “He was selfless.”

Dr. Hakim Lucas, President and CEO of Virginia Union also spoke at the funeral.

“Thank you for all you have done to shape a great Black man,” Lucas told the family, the school, the community. “Black men are not respected as they should be. They are not valued. They are portrayed in many different ways, but not Quin. He represented the best of you and we are here to stand and celebrate him.”

During the service Lucas presented Kenyada with an honorary bachelor of science degree for her son. He also announced that Kobe’s college bills would be paid and that if Quin’s sisters, Aliyha, 17, and Ivoray, 2, were interested, full scholarships to Virginia Union University would be offered to both of them.

It means everything

In the week after the funeral, Quin’s uncle Damien Wilburn said that even though Quin loved VUU, he could not imagine being comfortable sending his nieces back to there.

“When he was first born, I was a child myself, and I remember holding him in my arms,” he said. Damien was 13 years old at the time. “He didn’t really have a male role model in his life. I grew up without one in mine and I decided then that I was going to be his. I didn’t want him to go through what I went through so I was with him every step of the way.”

He spent as much time with his nephew as he could. He coached him in football when he was little and when Quin showed interest in getting better, Damien converted a room in his home to a gym for the boy. Quin worked with him renting inflatables and with another uncle at his vault service.

Although Kenyada would not take his money, Damien said Quin always offered some of what he earned to his mother.

“I had this old Ford Mustang that was sitting up (not running),” Damien said. “He knew he was going to college and he wanted to save money to fix it up so his sister could drive back and forth to school and to and from. He did things out of the ordinary for his sisters and his mama. He took responsibility for them. He didn’t need the money, but he wanted to make things easier on them.”

He remembers Quin getting the scholarship to VUU and how happy he was about it.

“Just when everything was starting and he was getting on the road to living his dreams, it ended,” Damien said. “I think about him all the time and it brings tears to my eyes.”

The family is awaiting autopsy results as no official cause of death has yet been determined.

“I know he had physicals every year that said he was a 100 percent healthy kid,” Damien said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Damien’s birthday was July 19 and Quin sent him a text that day.

“Happy birthday, Unc. I love you and I appreciate everything you do for me in making me who I am today,” the text reads.

“That text is keeping me going,” Damien said. “It means everything.”

One family bed

Sandra Nelson, Quin’s grandmother, said that Quin’s loss has left a void in their lives that they will never be able to fill.   

She said she knew that Kenyada did not want Quin to go that far away from the family and so she called the coaches herself before he moved. She asked them to look after him like he was their own child, she said.

“Quin never had any health conditions that we knew of,” she said. “His physicals always came back good.”

And that is why she said that she has hired lawyers and investigators to help the family find out what exactly happened to Quin.

Since he died, she and her daughter and Quin’s little sisters have slept together in the same bed.

“We talk about Quin and pray until we fall asleep,” she said. “The other day, Ivoray had been crying all day and asking for Quin. Then about 5:45 that morning we heard somebody laughing and talking and going on. We looked and Ivoray was still asleep, talking in her sleep. Quin used to get up and play with her every morning before school. I told Keke that was Quin playing with her again. Her angel had come to her.”