LEESBURG, Ga. — A former Lee County football player who was reportedly killed over the weekend in Afghanistan is being remembered as a "gentle giant" who left a mark in the halls of his alma mater.
Lance Cpl. Steven Sutton was reportedly killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend.
A death announcement sent to The Herald Tuesday by Kimbrell-Stern Funeral Directors said that Sutton died May 26 and that funeral arrangements would be announced at a later date.
And while the Department of Defense has yet to publicly verify Sutton's death, word of the 6 foot, 7 inch former Trojan offensive lineman's passing spread like a macabre wave through social media, even garnering the attention of some of Lee County's more notable notables.
Popular on Facebook Tuesday was a photo of Sutton, clad in his Trojan uniform, with a poignant caption: "Leesburg is proud of those who carry guitars, microphones and baseball bats. But we HONOR and Salute those that wear Dog Tags ... Rest In Peace Lance Corporal Steven Sutton. Fallen in the line of duty serving in the USMC in Afghanistan on Saturday at the age of 23," the post states.
Lee County High School Principal Kevin Dowling, who was a football coach and teacher before taking the job as principal, remembered Sutton as a person whose calm demeanor and kind heart contrasted starkly from his massive frame.
"He was just a good kid. Slow to anger — as big as he was you could understand how a kid his size could be overbearing or aggressive — but that just wasn't him," Dowling said. "He had a kind way about him, was never any trouble and was the kind of student we strive to create here in Lee County."
Dowling said Sutton was the consummate teammate, a trait that he thinks likely served him well in the Marine Corps.
"You've got to be a good teammate in the service because the person in front of you always has to know that, when the stuff gets rough, that you've got their back," Dowling said. "He showed that kind of character and determination here on the football field, and I'm sure he carried that with him into the Marines."
Word of Sutton's death brought a town that had been riding a wave of euphoria ever since native son Phillip Phillips was crowned the 2012 "American Idol" crashing back to reality. Phillips himself spoke of Sutton's death on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
"Thoughts and prayers go out to the Sutton family from my hometown. True hometown hero. Steve Sutton," Phillips posted.
Dowling said that a combat death, especially that of someone you know and someone from a community as small as Lee County, is a stinging reminder of what America's sons and daughters are doing overseas.
"It's really a painful reminder that there are people fighting for us every day, putting themselves in harms way," Dowling said. "We always acknowledge our veterans and service people, but I don't think we really understand what's happening until something like this happens. It's a true tragedy."