Keith Tandy remembers his nephew's spirit.
"Every time he walked into the room, everybody was going to smile," Tandy said of Jayvon Quarles. "If you weren't smiling, he was going to go out of his way to make sure you were smiling."
Quarles, 17, died Thursday in Hopkinsville, Ky., after being hit in the head by a large piece of football equipment used to train linemen that he was helping to move.
Tandy, a safety, missed the Bucs' preseason opener Saturday at Minnesota to be with his family. He returned to practice Monday.
Tandy had seen his nephew at a family reunion in July and said it was important to be home last 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."
Quarles, a middle linebacker and fullback, hadn't been able to play football for Hopkinsville High his sophomore or junior year because of seizures, but he had been cleared to play this season and would have worn the same No. 37 jersey his uncle wears for the Bucs.
"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, Madisonville North Hopkins, held a free scrimmage Friday night and raised more than $1,200 for Quarles' family. At a vigil, orange and black balloons were released in Quarles' memory, Nashville's WSMV-TV reported.
"He loved football," Darlene Quarles, the teen's aunt, told the station. "Like I told his mother, his dad, his two brothers and his grandmother, that he lived out his legacy. That's what he wanted to do. So y'all be proud of him."
Tandy said he'll be away from the Bucs again this week to attend his nephew's funeral Saturday, but he can return in time for Monday night's home game against the Bengals.
Tandy, 26, is battling for a roster spot in his fourth season with the Bucs and said coach Lovie Smith and the team's compassion has 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 past 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."
Smith, who has two of his sons on the coaching staff, said the decision to send Tandy home was easy, stressing the family aspect of his team, especially during a tragedy.
"Of course he didn't have to ask. We're about family. We were just concerned about Keith," Smith said. "Whenever you lose someone close like that, tragic, I didn't actually know him personally, but I know Keith. 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."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.