Freeman football team dealing with tragic death for third time in two years

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The death of 18-year-old Nick Ackies, a former Douglas S. Freeman High School student athlete, is the third tragedy the Freeman football team has endured over the past year and a half.

Ackies died Friday night in a shooting homicide in Norfolk, just a few miles from Norfolk State University, where he was a freshman defensive lineman on the football team.

Nick Jerome Ackies

In his four years at Freeman, Ackies was known for his kind and jovial manner and his exceptional talent in both football and baseball.

In fact, Ackies turned down offers from Division One schools, so he could continue to play both sports in college.

"Sometimes you can just look at somebody in the way they move on the field and how fast they are. There's just pure raw ability and you can say that guy has something that not many other people have," said Freeman defensive coordinator Blake Derby.

Blake Derby

Police arrested former L.C. Bird High School and Norfolk State Football player Jayquan Anderson, 22, in connection to the incident.

Ackie's death sent shock waves through the halls of his alma mater on Monday. Counselors and coaches met with students at Freeman, including the football and baseball teams, to talk about the circumstances of the case.

"It's just a tough thing to deal with," said Derby. "Especially when you're 16 or 17 years old and you lose a friend like that."

Ackie's murder is especially difficult, considering it is the third tragic death of a student or former student at the Henrico high school.

In April 2016, Christian Cozens, 20, a Freeman graduate and Randolph Macon football player, died after a yearlong battle with a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer.

Christian Cozens

Four months later, Frank Woolwine, a rising Junior and member of the varsity football team and Lacrosse team, died in a car accident near his home on Westham Parkway.

"It's tough to tell these guys that it's going to be ok," said Derby. "What can you do, other than say I'm here for you if you need anything and to try and help them through the process as much as you can, but nothing can fill that void."

The tragedies, realized at such a young age for Freeman's athletes, serve as a reminder as to how fragile life can be.

Related: Family angry, numb after former Freeman football star’s murder