For all of the accolades that J.T. (John Thomas) Rembert earned on the football field at Oakland Mills High School and Marshall University, it was his ability to bring people together that has become his legacy in the minds of those who knew and loved him.
Rembert, a member of the 1998 Oakland Mills football state championship team, died unexpectedly at age 29 on July 9 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“We just know that he impacted so many people, he touched so many lives,” said his sister, Tamera Rembert, at a candlelight vigil attended by hundreds at the Oakland Mills football field on July 13. “It just feels so good to have all of this love wrapped around us and know that he’s looking down because he made sure that we all kept in touch. ... and now that he’s gone we need to keep doing it.”
The preliminary cause of death was determined to be a pulmonary embolism, Horry County deputy coroner Tony Hendrick said in a statement on July 10.
Rembert was vacationing with his wife, Shannon, who is pregnant with their daughter, 2-year-old son Keegan and other family and friends at the time of his death.
“It’s so sad to hear that he won’t get to see his daughter born, but I know his son loved him very much,” said Robert Roche, a friend and former Oakland Mills teammate. “Everyone loved him because he was such a good-hearted man. He just wanted to be around everyone.”
Rembert gained attention as a player during his sophomore season at Oakland Mills in 1998.
He wasn’t relied on heavily until the playoffs, when he rushed for 70 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-13 state semifinal win over Cambridge-South Dorchester, eventually helping the Scorpions win their only football state championship. The team was coached by Ken Hovet, who died in 2010 from kidney cancer.
“J.T. actually played a pretty big role in that run,” said Thomas Browne, the leading receiver as a senior on the 1998 team and the current Oakland Mills football coach. “We were kind of beat up and J.T. stepped up unbelievably for us as a 10th-grader ... without him we wouldn’t have done what we did that year.”
Rembert, who was also a talented lacrosse player, was even better in his junior and senior seasons.
“We probably didn’t know it as kids at the time, but our coaches — Ken Hovet and Marcus Lewis — knew he was going to be something pretty darn special,” Browne said.
Browne remembers coming home from college in 2000 to see Oakland Mills’ homecoming game against Howard, and seeing how much Rembert had developed as a player.
“He literally jumped over a kid running up the sideline. It wasn’t like the kid was diving at his ankles, J.T. literally jumped over him. I’ve never seen something like that at any level,” Browne said. “He was a special kid. ... a great football player and truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met ... It’s just unbelievably sad.”
Rembert was named the Howard County offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2000 after rushing for almost 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, passing for more than 800 yards and making 73 tackles.
That year, Oakland Mills senior linebacker Andrew Deming — who had played football with Rembert since they were 8 — was named defensive Player of the Year. The longtime teammates stayed friends after college, serving in each other’s wedding and calling and text messaging each other regularly. Deming was with Rembert in Myrtle Beach on the night of his death.
“It’s just one of those things you have to deal with,” said Deming, who is now an assistant football coach at Dundalk High. “You just feel blessed that you got to spend as much time with him as you did. He was one of the best people I’ve ever known. He had this special way of bringing people together. ... the camaraderie that was built and the brotherhood (at Oakland Mills) is almost unbreakable.”
While Deming went off to Salisbury to play football, Rembert headed to Marshall on a full athletic scholarship.
There, he was a productive four-year linebacker for the Thundering Herd, finishing his career with 175 tackles and serving as a team captain his junior and senior seasons.
In 2002, as a sophomore, Rembert recorded 72 tackles, including two sacks, intercepted two passes and returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown.
Rembert lived with his family in Huntington, W.Va., and worked as an account manager with the Western and Southern Life Insurance agency in Charleston, primarily working with NFL draftees to obtain life and injury insurance.
For the last three years, Rembert ran a golf tournament in West Virginia to benefit a scholarship fund in the name of Johnathan Goddard, a former Marshall teammate who died in a motorcycle accident in 2008.
Now, Rembert’s friends and family want to be there for him.
“My heart is broken for my sister-in-law and my nephew Keegan and (the) baby girl on the way but I know that he would want us to stand up and be troupers and be strong,” Tamera Rembert said. “It’s kind of hard to put one foot in front of the other but we know that we have to stand up and keep going on with life to make sure that his babies and his wife will be OK, so I’m kind of just drawing strength from that.”
A service will be held Saturday, July 21, from 12-4 p.m. at Bridgeway Community Church, 9189 Red Branch Road, in Columbia.
Luke Lavoie and Jon Sham contributed to this story.