Dec. 22—WOODSTOCK — As dozens held hands in prayer Wednesday for Robbie Roper, the star quarterback's aunt stepped away from the large circle of people to receive a call that all had feared — Roper had died.
What began as an event at Hobgood Park to pray and hope for Roper's recovery suddenly became a vigil to remember his legacy.
Roper, a star quarterback for Roswell High School who spent two years as a player and student at Woodstock High, died Wednesday following medical complications for a surgery he underwent Tuesday. He was 18.
More than 30 people gathered on the football field at Hobgood Park, many of them Roper's former classmates and teammates wearing their Woodstock letterman jackets while embracing tightly and shedding tears.
Roper's family put out a statement on Twitter announcing his death.
"He was the biggest joy to our family," the tweet, posted to Roper's Twitter account Wednesday, said. "We are proud of the young man he has become. He will be missed by his friends and family dearly. We are still working on funeral arrangements and will update everyone on the date, time and location."
Roper attended Woodstock during his freshman and sophomore years. He later transferred to Roswell ahead of his junior year and had a major impact on the football field.
Roper threw for nearly 2,200 yards with 23 touchdowns in his junior year. Just a few weeks ago, Roper wrapped up his senior campaign with a staggering 3,010 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading Roswell to the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
The highlight of Roper's season came in the second round, as Roswell trailed North Cobb 43-34 with less than 2 minutes remaining.
The Hornets recovered a North Cobb fumble at the Warriors' 12-yard line, and after throwing a couple of incomplete passes, Roper kept the ball and ran it in 12 yards for the score to cut the Hornets' deficit to 43-40 with 46 seconds left.
Roswell then got new life when it recovered its onside kick attempt at its own 20.
Roper connected with Shaun Spence for a 21-yard pass to the Hornets' 41, then launched a 52-yard bomb to Dylan Williams to take the ball all the way to the North Cobb 7 with 13 seconds left.
After three consecutive incomplete passes made it fourth-and-goal with seven seconds left, Roswell coach Chris Prewett elected to go for the win instead of attempting a game-tying field goal to force overtime.
Roper took the snap and broke to his right, but as the majority of North Cobb's defense committed to that side of the field, Roper found an opening to the left and broke into the end zone as time expired to give Roswell its improbable come-from-behind win.
Roper's standout campaign put him on the forefront of many recruiters, and he was named the Region 5AAAAAAA Offensive Player of the Year.
"Heartbroken is a gross understatement," Prewett tweeted. "Robbie was a fantastic young man and a fighter all the way thru!! You will be missed in so many ways!! Prayers to this grieving family and our community."
Before transferring to Roswell, Roper split snaps with fellow quarterback Walker Ormsby during his two years playing at Woodstock.
Roper's development as a quarterback began even earlier as he attended multiple camps as a middle-schooler, earning an invitation in 2017 to attend the prestigious Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, run by former NFL superstars Peyton and Eli Manning, and their father, Archie.
Roper's older sister, Breanna, was a standout softball player at Woodstock who graduated in 2018 and went on to play at Georgia Tech before transferring to Mississippi for her upcoming final season in 2022.
"Robbie was able to touch so many hearts," Breanna Roper tweeted. "I am beyond proud of the man he has become, and can only wish to be half as good of a teammate, leader, and person that Robbie was."
But there was little talk of football Wednesday on the turf of Hobgood Park's field. Other than prayer, there was little talk at all. Those in attendance mostly embraced, wiped away tears and were caught up in their own thoughts on the tragic passing of the 18-year-old.