I've spent the better part of the last week trying to process Jesse Mahelona's death.
The former Tennessee All-SEC defensive tackle died in a car accident last weekend in his native Hawaii. He leaves behind a wife, an 18-month-old daughter and another child on the way.
I had the pleasure of covering Mahelona when he was at Tennessee, and the picture I can't get out of my mind is his radiant smile. Even on the hottest of days back in August as he trudged off the practice field, the sweat pouring down his face, he always wore that familiar smile and would greet you as if he'd known you his entire life.
Mahelona was a fierce competitor on the field. I'll never forget his performance against Alabama in 2004 on a sprained knee. The Crimson Tide outplayed the Vols most of the game, but Mahelona simply wouldn't allow his team to lose. I can still see him blowing through the Alabama offensive line and forcing the fumble that saved the Vols that day.
My prayers go out to Mahelona's family. He was taken from us much too soon.
For anybody who would like to help, a trust fund has been set up. Donations can be sent to Jesse Mahelona Trust, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, c/o John Verble, 1111 Northshore Drive, Suite N-160, Knoxville, Tenn., 37919.
Also, people can go to www.jessestrust.com.