Terrance Rayford coached Malik Leach for much of Leach’s life.
Rayford remembers Leach’s willingness to give all-out effort, the joy he played with and a smile that exemplified his bright personality.
“His personality was one thing that always stuck with me,” Rayford, better known as “Coach Tanko,” said. Rayford is also Leach’s uncle, and continued coaching Leach from youth leagues to Abbeville High School.
Leach, 19, died Saturday at Self Regional Medical Center after accidentally shooting himself, Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox said.
The Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office incident report detailed that Leach was posing for a picture with the gun when it fired.
The sudden loss of Leach sent ripples through Abbeville, with many former classmates, teammates and family members sharing tributes to Leach on social media.
“Every day of the week, it’s like, ‘This can’t be real,’” said Kentavious Rayford, Leach’s cousin who played football alongside Leach from a young age. “To me, right now it still doesn’t feel real. I know at one point I will know it’s got to be real.”
Leach played football and ran track at Abbeville. As a defensive back and running back, Leach helped the Panthers football team win four consecutive state championships.
Abbeville head football coach Jamie Nickles first met Leach when Leach was 6 or 7 years old and playing for Abbeville’s rec league teams. Leach’s memorable smile sticks in Nickles’ mind.
“You saw that same smile that you see in pictures, that was the way he played the game of football,” Nickles said. “You could just tell he loved it. You can’t really see somebody smile when they’re playing football, but the way he moved, the effort he played with, the camaraderie and sportsmanship he played with really stood out. If you go on in and take that helmet off, then you really see that smile and you know the person he was.”
While Abbeville grapples with the tragedy, Terrance Rayford said the loss is felt all through the community.
“It’s not only our family, but it’s tough for the community because he was one of those good young men, very respectful,” Terrance said. “Always smiling, so it’s a hard pill but we will get through it.”