Friends spent the Fourth of July holiday weekend mourning the death and remembering the life of Jaalen Watkins, 21, a former Central Arkansas Christian football player.

Watkins, a passenger in a 2011 Dodge Charger, died in the early hours of July 3 in a two-car accident on Interstate 630.

"Jaalen was at CAC for only three semesters; however, during that brief time he proved to be a capable and well respected student athlete," CAC Athletic Director Doug Killgore said. "He was very quiet and unassuming yet was exceedingly well mannered and polite. He usually had a bit of a smile and nearly always a "Yes, ma’am" and "Yes, sir."

"Beyond his obvious athletic abilities, he made friends readily and seemed to fit well in the life on Mustang Mountain. We did not wish to see him move on, at that time or this. He leaves a good many at CAC who were impressed with him as a young man and student. It makes it all the more tragic that Jaalen and those like him are taken from this life so early with so many, many opportunities ahead. Our prayers continue for his family, teachers, coaches and friends."

Watkins was a sophomore running back for the Mustangs in 2008, Tommy Shoemaker’s first season at the helm of the football program at Mustang Mountain. He played at CAC for two years before transferring to Pulaski Robinson for his senior season.

But his legacy remained.

"Jaalen was one of the first people to reach out to me when I came to the high school campus as a seventh grader," said Jack Thomas, CAC’s recently graduated quarterback. "His impact on me inspired me to have a similar impact on the younger kids I came into contact with.

"I’ll always remember Jaalen’s smile and the way he greeted me by giving me a high five and saying, ‘What’s up, Jack?’ He truly was an awesome guy."

Watkins went on to play at the University of Central Arkansas in 2012 before transferring to Ouachita Baptist University for last season. Although short, his tenure at UCA left friends there mourning him.

"I know of Jaalen through other athletes because at UCA the sport teams all hang out," said Abigail Hodgson, a recently graduated soccer player. "But I got to know him more at FCA camp in January 2013. He was very soft-spoken, but one day he started playing the piano in front of all the other college athletes there, and he was so good. He played in front of star athletes from LSU and rival conference foes but loved to do it."

She said following that weekend, the two were friendly when meeting on campus.

"Even though he left UCA, (his death) shook through our athletic community," Hodgson said. "We are all thinking about him and his family, and it just shows how short life can be and how precious time is."