JACKSONVILLE, ONSLOW COUNTY - A wake was held Friday evening for Shak Pershey, the Southwest High School football star who drowned in North Topsail Beach.
More than 300 people attended the viewing at Lighthouse Bapitist Church, along Highway 53 in Jacksonville.
"We've just been leaning on each other and that's how we've been getting through it," Madison Smith, a fellow classmate and teammate, said.
The 19-year-old's funeral will be in Wilmington, his mother's hometown. It is scheduled to be held at the Union Missionary Baptist Church on Princess Place Drive Saturday at noon.
Pershey was swimming with friends at Beach Access #4 in North Topsail Beach when we disappeared on May 23, according to Emergency Management Director Norman Bryson. Witnesses said Pershey went under the water about 100 yards from shore. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Cherry Point helicopter, "Pedro," were called in to look for him.
Crews recovered Pershey's body at about 2:15 a.m. on May 24 at Beach Access #2, emergency officials said. More than 200 people gathered at the site that night to pay their respects.
"There wasn't another kid like Shak. I graduated before he did, but to see that kid grow up, it was special," said Ty-Ray Fisher, who had known Pershey for nine years. "When I first got the phone call, it was unreal. I couldn't believe it. I still don't believe it."
Perhsey played quarterback and defensive back for the Southwest Stallions. In his senior year, he recorded 1,149 passing yards that led to 13 touchdowns, and 929 rushing yards that led to 18 touchdowns. Perhsey was named The Jacksonville Daily News Player of the Year.
Pershey led the Stallions to the 1AA State Championship on Dec. 1, 2012 in Raleigh. They beat defending champion Swain County High School 44-34 for the title.
Stallions Head Coach Phil Padgett said he retired Pershey's No. 12 jersey as soon as he learned of Pershey's drowning.
"The kids loved him. He was the most popular kid at school," said Coach Padgett. "He was loved at school, he was loved on the football team. He was a leader."
Leighton Kuewa-Bell, Pershey's football teammate for three years, said it was Pershey's personality that really stood out.
"He always had a smile on his face. He was just an all-around enjoyable person," said Kuewa-Bell.
Southwest High School Principal Tim Foster shared a similar sentiment.
"Shak was a friend to all- one of those kids you saw interacting with all students," said Foster. "Shak never met a stranger, always had a smile, and was loved by his teachers and coaches and he loved them back. Shak Pershey had the heart of a stallion."
Pershey was set to graduate from Southwest High School on June 11. His name will be called during the ceremony.