Provo • As Micah Harper tried to process the news, he looked at his text messages — the last text messages — between him and his childhood best friend Devin Chandler.
They were from three weeks ago, when Harper was trying to convince Chandler to make the hour drive over to Liberty University to see his BYU team play.
Plans fell through. Chandler couldn’t make it.
But at the end of the conversation, the Virginia wide receiver asked Harper a final question: “Were you planning on declaring for the draft next year?”
Looking at those words in the aftermath of the shooting that took his best friend’s life this week, a question became a calling.
“We have been talking about [playing in the NFL] since we were little kids,” Harper said. “I saw that and said, ‘Man I just gotta keep going for him.’ Just live out that childhood dream that we both had.”
Chandler was killed on Sunday in Virginia. He was allegedly shot by former UVa running back Christopher Jones Jr. Two other Virginia football players also died in the shooting, including D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. Another player was in critical condition, police said.
The shooting has sent the Virginia community into mourning and shockwaves across the rest of the college football landscape.
For BYU’s defensive back, it is as personal as anything can be.
Chandler was someone Harper carpooled with to grade school. He was a sounding board for life decisions. They were connected forever through football. They talked often about playing together again at the professional level.
“It is definitely tough, he is one of the closest friends I’ve ever had,” Harper said Tuesday. “It is just hard to believe something like that could happen to such a good person. He would never do something wrong or put himself in a bad situation. It is just one of those deals where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The two met in third grade when Harper was living in Hawaii. They ran track together at first, then played on the same peewee football team.
Harper joked that the two actually transferred peewee football teams together before it was fashionable to do so. After joining forces one year, Harper and Chandler combined for two touchdowns to win their peewee championship game.
“That was a cool moment,” Harper said while grinning.
Their relationship was something akin to family. They would spend weekends together watching Chandler’s brother play football.
“We spent pretty much every day for four or five years together,” Harper said. “We were really close. ... I call him a goofy kid. Always trying to make us laugh.”
But even then they made serious goals together: go to college, excel, then work their way into the NFL.
Eventually, both Harper and Chandler moved back to the mainland for high school. Harper went to a school in Arizona while Chandler bounced around with a military family. Both became highly touted recruits.
When it came time for college decisions, they talked about their offers and weighed their options. Chandler would eventually wind up at Wisconsin before transferring to UVa.
“That was his dream school,” Harper said.
Harper, of course, found himself in Provo.
But their shared dream didn’t end there.
“We always talked about playing this game and going to next level,” Harper said. “We always watched his older brother play. He didn’t make it and we knew that we had to be different. Make it to college and our ultimate goal was to play professional football and meet again.”
This week, Harper called Chandler’s mother when he heard the news of the shooting. Chandler’s brother, the one both Harper and Chandler grew up watching, ended up picking up. The two talked for a bit.
Since then, Harper hasn’t taken a day off from practice.
Grief and resolve now coexist.
He doesn’t know what will happen in the coming days as funeral arraignments get made. But he knows one thing: He wants to live out the dream that they both shared.
“Our dream together was to grow up and play in the NFL,” Harper said. “Now I just got to [let him] live through me and accomplish that dream for the both of us.”