Amin Hassan got pulled out of class Monday morning to be told the news. Anton Hall Jr. had already gotten the gut-wrenching report via a phone call from his father.
Within moments, a typical Monday at the Naval Academy had been shattered for the two sophomore football players. In the blink of an eye, Hall and Hassan joined the long list of Americans impacted by gun violence.
Hall and Hassan have spent this week in mourning for D’Sean Perry, their former teammate at Gulliver Prep who was one of the three University of Virginia football players killed during a shooting late Sunday night.
“When they told me what happened I just broke down because D’Sean was like a big brother,” Hassan said. ‘D’Sean was the older guy, the leader and we looked up to him.”
Hassan and Hall have leaned on each other during this trying time.
“It hit hard when I heard the news about D’Sean. I think about all the times we had together, all the talks we had. It still doesn’t feel real. I still can’t believe it happened,” Hall said.
Perry and Hassan lived just minutes apart in the Miami suburb of Richmond Heights. Hall lived nearby and all three players were driven to school daily by Gulliver Prep head coach Earl Sims.
Hassan fondly remembers those car rides as Sims engaged the teenagers in big picture discussions about life. The trio discussed their dreams of playing college football and what earning a degree from an elite institution would mean for their futures.
Perry grew into a manchild — an imposing 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker who would be named South Florida Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. He was selected to represent the United States Under-19 team in the International Bowl held in Dallas.
Sims was a three-year letterman as a linebacker at Virginia and was thrilled when Perry chose to follow in his footsteps. He knew well the quality of education provided by the Charlottesville school founded by Thomas Jefferson.
“D’Sean was a beautiful flower in our garden at Gulliver, and when he got transplanted to [Virginia] we knew he was going to continue to grow, but — you know — God picked that flower,” Sims said during a Wednesday news conference in Miami.
Hassan and Hall certainly have a huge hole in their hearts. When Hall transferred to Gulliver Prep as a seventh grader, Perry was the first person he met. They were among the only Black students at the co-educational private school.
Perry, who was in eighth grade at the time, immediately embraced and welcomed Hall. They would become close friends from that moment on. Hall blossomed into a standout football player in his own right, being named the 2019 South Florida Conference Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,057 yards as a senior.
“D’Sean always knew how to keep everyone loose, but he also knew when it was time to lock in,” Hall said. “D’Sean was a very outgoing person and would go out of his way to make sure his friends and family, everyone he cared about, was doing good. I would describe D’Sean as a gentle giant.”
When Hall and Hassan were introduced to the Navy football brotherhood, they understood exactly what it was all about. That’s because they had a tight bond of brotherhood at Gulliver Prep, one that was led by Perry. They have been in contact all week with Coach Sims and numerous Gulliver Prep teammates and intend to return home next week for Perry’s services.
“Whenever you lose one of your brothers it is really heartbreaking,” Hall said.
Perry was sitting out the 2019 season as a redshirt freshman at Virginia when he received word that Hassan and Hall had committed to the Naval Academy. He was initially upset because Navy had beaten Virginia in the 2017 Military Bowl.
“D’Sean was ready for a rematch to happen,” Hassan said.
Perry, who was a College of Arts and Sciences major, was described by family members as “having the kindest soul and making a positive impact on anyone who had the privilege to know him.” The 22-year-old was a man of faith whose artistic ability was impressive.
“When you look at D’Sean his smile always stands out. He was a very bright person and had a lot of passion for life,” Hassan said. “He always kept both Anton and I motivated and striving for excellence.”
Hassan initially struggled when asked his favorite memory of Perry, saying there were so many. However, after thinking about it for a while he recalled the time Perry displayed total spontaneity and showed off his rich personality.
“The best memory I have of D’Sean was Thursday nights in the locker room after meetings and team dinner. We’d all come back to the locker room and start dancing,” Hassan said. “D’Sean was the first one to set it off and was so funny with his crazy dance moves.”
Because Perry made the moment so special, dancing to music in the locker room on Thursday nights became a Gulliver Prep tradition.
‘Toughest dude I know’
Hall and Hassan were not the only Navy football players impacted by the University of Virginia on-campus shooting. Also killed were junior wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. of Dorchester, South Carolina, and Devin Chandler of Huntersville, North Carolina.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a former Virginia football player, was arrested and charged with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony. The shooting occurred on a bus immediately after a group of Virginia students had returned from a class field trip to attend a play in Washington, D.C.
Two other students were injured in the shooting and one has been identified as a fourth Virginia football player — running back Mike Hollins. Navy starting nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. was a teammate and classmate of Hollins at University Laboratory School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“I was shocked when I heard the news. Mike is a great guy and if he cares about you, he truly cares about you. Having grown up together, it really hit home,” Berniard said.
Berniard and Hollins first met in fourth grade while competing against each other in recreational basketball. They crossed paths many times up through middle school before becoming football teammates at University Lab.
“Me and Mike really got to know each other on a personal note while in high school. He was always a very kind and likable person,” Berniard said. “Mike is the toughest running back I ever went against. Seeing Mike run over defenses every Friday night, I was glad he was on my team.”
Hollins was named Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Class 3A state championship game after rushing for 237 yards and four touchdowns to lead University Lab to the title. He amassed 1,645 rushing yards and scored 33 touchdowns as a senior, earning a three-star recruit rating from ESPN, Rivals and 247sports.
Hollins was Virginia’s third-leading rusher this season with 215 yards and two touchdowns through nine games. He also had eight receptions for another 114 yards.
Hollins was listed in serious but stable condition after undergoing two surgeries. Hollins, who was shot in the back, had been in critical condition after being placed on a ventilator Monday.
“Mike is a fighter and I know he’ll make it through. He’s one of the toughest dudes I know,” Berniard said.
Brenda Hollins said earlier this week that her son, who had been unable to communicate verbally, was using written messages to inquire about the fate of his three friends. Mike Hollins has since learned that Chandler, Davis and Perry were killed.
“Mike has to wake up one day and realize that three of his best friends are gone. I feel awful that he has to go through that,” Berniard said. “I’ll keep praying for Mike that his mind is OK and he can fully recover from this trauma.”