Hanahan coaches recall former player, fallen soldier

HANAHAN, S.C. (WCIV) - Pictured in uniform and wearing his green beret, 33-year-old Staff Sgt. Girard Gass Jr. was remembered Thursday night. He died this week in Afghanistan.

His death was not combat-related, officials said.

His former high school football coaches say Gass was one of a kind. It's clear, listening to the two men they had nothing but respect for the fallen soldier.

One coach said Gass made a lasting impression from the first time he stepped foot on the field. As the starting center during his senior year, Gass was ready for any challenge.

It was something Jeff Cruce said Gass had displayed since his freshman year.

"The very first start he ever had, we put him in. I'm dating myself back when St. Stevens still had a school," Cruce said. "We put him up against a defensive lineman. He got hit in nose and got all bloody and was all worried he came to me and had blood all over him and said to me, 'Hey coach, this isn't so bad. I think I can do this.'"

Gass' can-do attitude carried him through challenged on and off the field. It made the high schooler stand out, too.

"He joined military late. It's not like he joined right out of high school. He played football and then joined it late. That's typical Jerry to do what he did," Cruce said. "I'm proud of him. He made his own way. We can all be proud of that, especially as educators. That's what you want to produce, a kid like that."

While in the Army, Gass received a number of awards and medals, including two Bronze Stars and the Army Achievement Medal. The awards did not go to Gass' head, though.

"The thing I liked about him was he was not flashy, not a show boater. He was very humble, a super, great man. Everyone would be proud to have a son like Jerry," said Mike Wilkerson.

Whether he was donning the Hanahan jersey or his military uniform, those who knew him called him a class act.

Gass' family is still making funeral arrangements