The last handful of days for ECU running back Darius Pinnix Jr. have been far from easy. On Sunday, Pinnix’s father, Darius Pinnix Sr., passed away rather unexpectedly at the age of 41.

“He was a young man that was very close to his father,” ECU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “I think they spoke every morning first thing before he went to class or did anything, or before the dad went and did anything, they always spoke. He has had some illness, but it was very unexpected. So on Sunday that was a knee-buckler, and he’s really struggled mentally.”

Pinnix Sr. played football at Western Alamance High School and was a 1998 graduate. His playing days helped inspire Pinnix Jr. to play football. Since his father’s passing, Pinnix Jr. changed his jersey number from seven to 40 to honor his dad’s memory.

For head coach Mike Houston, his running back’s loss comes little more than a year after his own father passed away.

“Just really feel for him and his family,” Houston said. “I told him it’s been a year and a week or so since my father passed. I’m 48 years old, he’s 21 years old. You hate seeing someone go through the loss of a parent like that at that age. He’s doing OK. I’ve been in contact with him constantly. He is back here with us right now. We’re going to try to support him and just be there for him and just take care of him as a human being with anything and everything that we can possibly do this week and the weeks to come.”

Pinnix Sr.’s full obituary can be viewed here.

Earlier this year, Pinnix Jr. also suffered the loss of a member of his extended family, making this week’s news even tougher to digest.

“He lost a mentor of his late this summer and then lost his father this past weekend,” Houston said. “He’s had a rough couple of months. We’re all praying for him and his family and just trying to do everything we can to support him right now through this time.”

In his time of need, Pinnix Jr.’s teammates have rallied around him, including fellow members of ECU’s running back room. Many replied to his tweets on Twitter earlier this week with words of encouragement and are continuing to support him day in and day out during this difficult time.

“Luckily he’s got some really good friends on the team, especially the guys in that running back room,” Kirkpatrick said. “They’ve all rallied around him and supported him. All through the staff, coach Houston, everybody loves Darius and so they’re there. As I told him, I can’t even imagine what you’re feeling right now so it’s been a tough week.”

While he has been practicing with the team, the coaching staff has encouraged Pinnix Jr. to take some time and focus on the things that matter more than football. He still wants to play this weekend against Georgia State, however, and has been pushing through emotional practices this week in preparation for the game.

“I think it’s a deal where he thinks that’s what his dad would want him to do,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s his decision. He and coach Houston have visited about that part a lot more than I have with him…He has practiced and he’s practiced hard. He’s practiced well, but you can just see it in his eyes, you can just see it in his body language that he’s hurting.”

While there is no doubt much more on Pinnix Jr.’s mind this week than football, he was still listed at the top of ECU’s depth chart on Tuesday. Last weekend against UCF, the junior rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown, while catching his first collegiate passing touchdown on a 17-yard score.

Whether or not he plays this weekend is irrelevant to the fact that all of Pirate Nation is thinking about Darius Pinnix Jr. in his moment of grief this week and in the months and years to come.

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