The season has long been finished, but the Northeast High School Raiders still huddled Saturday evening in the school’s gymnasium. After counting down, the Raiders barked “Hutt” and broke the huddle one last time for the man they knew as “Big Luke.”
Al Lucas, a former Raider, died April 10 of a spinal cord injury he suffered during an Arena Football League game in Los Angeles. He was 26.
More than 600 people, including Mayor Jack Ellis, gathered in the school’s gymnasium to honor Big Luke, a 300-pounder strong both in stature and demeanor.
“He was so humble, yet so proud,” said Ellis, who ordered city flags to half-staff and declared Saturday as Al Lucas Day in Macon.
Lucas made football his career, although he may not have been a big name in the sport. After graduating from Northeast High in 1996, he played at Troy State University in Alabama before playing in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers.
He ultimately ended up in the Arena Football League, first with the Tampa Bay Storm and then with the Los Angeles Avengers.
But it wasn’t his devotion and hard work on the gridiron that makes him a hero in Macon.
Lucas was a class act, disciplined and motivated, said Ellis. The high school’s athletic director, Alvin Copeland, said, “He had a heart of gold and he was meek as a lamb.” A friend of Lucas’ said he never saw the big fellow angry.
But he would be upset if he knew people were shedding a tear over him, said Tray Stephens, a former classmate who flew from South Korea to pay homage to his old pal.
Lucas never forgot Northeast High. He helped out the football team during the off-season and had officially signed on as an assistant coach. His widow, De’Shonda Warren-Lucas, said that when she was in California packing her husband’s belongings she found a box of gloves he had been collecting to give to the student-athletes.
“Al loved you all so much,” she said. “He was always thinking about you.”
Northeast High is returning the sentiment.
The school has retired Lucas’ No. 76 jersey, and plans to put a plaque near the gymnasium detailing Lucas’ accomplishments. Copeland said there also is talk of dedicating the future field house in Lucas’ memory.
“Of course, I don’t have the last word on that, but I definitely will push to get that done,” he said.