Tramar Reece sat at a table in Clearwater High's auditorium, beaming as cameras flashed all around him.
The senior defensive lineman was about to sign with Indiana University, fulfilling a dream of playing college football.
Even in triumph, he could not forget the tragedy that has defined his life.
Immediately, his thoughts turned to the one person who would not be there to witness this moment: his mother, Tracey.
In 2015, Tracey died of a heart attack the day before the Tornadoes' regular season district finale against Osceola.
"As I was signing I know she was right here behind me (in spirit)," Reece said Wednesday. "I was just thinking of all the stuff she taught me and just wanted her there with me."
Still, Reece had plenty of support.
Police officers and other mentors from the Men in the Making program were there for Reece's national signing day ceremony.
The program, which started in 2015, provides guidance for some of the area's most vulnerable boys to help them become successful adults.
"The Men in the Making program has been a huge factor in my life," Reece said. "They helped me stay away from drugs and out of trouble. The tutors are really behind you. They care about you and want you to the best you can be.
"It's really like an extended family, which is something I needed with everything that happened."
The program is for boys ages 8 through 18. They spend one Saturday a month together with religious leaders and police officers, among others. It is a spinoff of another program at the Poynter Institute that primarily focuses on boys in middle school and has existed for almost six years.
"Tramar has demonstrated a level of maturity that you rarely see in young men," said St. Petersburg police Assistant Chief Luke Williams, a mentor in the Men in the Making program who attended the signing ceremony with several other officers and mentors. "I'm so proud of him. We'd like to think we had a part in helping him get through the loss of his mother."
Reece joined the program in the sixth grade at the urging of his mother, who wanted him to have some positive male role models. Reece did not have much of a relationship with his father.
The Clearwater neighborhood where Reece grew up was not a great influence either.
"I pretty much fell asleep to sirens every night," Reece said.
The program steered him in the right path. So did sports.
Reece turned to football and his combination of athleticism and speed transformed him from an unknown in the recruiting world to a coveted prospect.
Football also became his coping mechanism.
The day after his mother died, Reece delivered a captivating performance with two crucial fumble recoveries that changed the complexion of the game that clinched Clearwater's first district title since 2003.
Playing football was not enough. Reece needed the guidance from his mentors to also deal with the sudden loss.
"Tramar's mother was just a jewel," said Williams, the assistant police chief. "She would show up at all of our mentoring sessions and we knew she would have his report card ready for us before we would ask for it."
After his mother died, Reece lived with his godmother, Latriviette Jackson, who became his legal guardian. It was a busy day for Jackson. Her son, Samson Jackson, is an offensive lineman at Palm Harbor University High and signed with Ohio University.
"This day was truly amazing," Jackson said. "Tramar has talked about this moment for a long time. He's really stepped up, stayed focused and in school and kept honoring his mom. The mentoring program has really helped him to become a young man."
As Jackson was talking with reporters, Reece came up beside her and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Jackson paused, waving her hands.
"He's going to make to make me get emotional," she said.
Reece has become such an influential member of the program that he has been become a role model for the younger boys who have recently joined.
"I want to stay involved and give back any way I can," Reece said.
Sgt. Matt Furse, president of Men in the Making, said he is excited to see Reece begin the next chapter in his life. He expressed admiration for the humility Reece showed despite the challenges he faced.
"It was inspiring for me, even as an adult, to see a child who went through the unexpected loss of his mother and was able to continue in school, continue in sports and not be distracted by the pain that comes with that loss," Furse said. "He was able to fight through."
Times staff writer Lavendrick Smith contributed to this report. Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected] Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.