While the Bucs opened their preseason Saturday night in Minnesota, safety Keith Tandy was home in Hopkinsville, Ky., helping his family cope with the tragic loss of his 17-year-old nephew, Jayvon Quarles, who died in an accident on the football field at practice.
"Every time he walked into the room, everybody was going to smile," Tandy said after practice Monday. "If you weren't smiling, he was going to go out of his way to make sure you were smiling."
Quarles hadn't been able to play football in Hopkinsville his sophomore or junior year due to seizures he suffered, but had been cleared to play this season, and would have worn the same No. 37 jersey his uncle wears for the Bucs. He died Thursday when a large piece of equipment he was moving fell and struck him in the head before practice.
"He was excited about finally getting ready to play. They told him he was starting," Tandy said. "Hopkinsville is a small town, only two public high schools. I actually went to the other one. Both of them came together, and they have tried to rally around each other. There's not much you can say, but they did about as much as they can do."
Hopkinsville and its rival program, Madisonville North Hopkins, held a free scrimmage Friday night and raised more than $1,200 for Quarles' family. Tandy said he'll be away from the Bucs again this week to attend his nephew's funeral on Saturday, but can return in time for the Bucs' game Monday night at home against the Bengals.
Tandy, 26, is battling for a roster spot in his fourth season with the Bucs, and said the team's compassion meant a lot to him during a difficult time.
"Lovie didn't even give me a chance to ask 'Could I go home?' He said 'We're booking you a flight right now. Make sure you let me know what we can do to help you out,'" Tandy said.
Tandy flew back to Tampa on Sunday night, and said there was comfort in the company of friends and teammates, as well as the distraction of football, as difficult as the last few days have been.
"It's definitely hard, but just being around my teammates, they feel like family to me too," Tandy said. "My mom, she told me: 'You can't stop living your life.' Of course it hurts. It's going to hurt for a long time. You have to try to find a way to get through it. to be tough even though you can't."
Tandy had seen his nephew at a family reunion in July, and said it was important to be home this past weekend with family, especially his older brother Kevin, who lost his son.
"I've never seen him break down like that," said Tandy, the youngest of four children. "That was hard for me. Me and my sister, we just cried together for about 10 minutes."
Smith, who has two of his own sons on the coaching staff, said the decision to send Tandy home was an easy one, stressing the family aspect of his football team, especially during a tragedy as what Tandy has dealt with.
"Of course he didn't have to ask. We're about family. We were just concerned about Keith. Whenever you lose someone close like that, tragic, I didn't actually know him personally, but I know Keith," Smith said. "We just wanted to be there, like we'll be there for anyone in our program in times where they need support. Life has to go on, and it was good to get Keith back here. Probably good for him to get back around his team."