Tony Creecy keeps a copy of the video for the times he longs for his mother's voice, his freshman year highlight tape from Southern (N.C.) High that shows him scoring his first varsity touchdown.
"I can hear her screaming from the top of her lungs," Creecy said. "She knows I love sports; she knows that's what I love to do. She was at every game I had. I don't think she ever missed a game."
More than seven years have passed since colon cancer stole Anita Creecy from this world at 44 years old, when her son was a high school rookie. Much has changed since then for Tony, who hits the home stretch of his NC State run this month. The Wolfpack are a victory away from extending that career to the winter as they aim for win No. 6 on Saturday against Georgia Tech.
Creecy plays for a new coach, who was hired before last season. His father has since remarried, to a woman and family to which Creecy has grown extremely close. And then there is Tristan, his nearly 2-year-old son who has been more of a game-changer than anything the redshirt senior has taken on over the years.
"This is a whole 'nother ballgame," Creecy said. "This is something I have to step up and take care of myself, and as a process, it's been amazing. My father and stepmother and [girlfriend's] parents have been a tremendous help throughout this process. There hasn't been a time where he's needed for anything or we've needed for anything."
Tristan's second birthday will be on Dec. 22. Told that this is an ideal date for gift-giving -- one present sufficing for both the birthday and the winter holidays -- Creecy laughed: "He's so spoiled. All the presents under the Christmas tree will be his."
An avid watch collector who counts a closet of shoes approaching 100, Creecy has no worries about his son's eventual fashion sense. He is at ease in other matters, too, given all that he learned from the limited time he had with his mother.
Creecy remembers regularly visiting his mother's family in her hometown of Creswell, North Carolina, nearly three hours away. He and his older sister, Jeskell, admittedly grew bored with the trips as they got older, so Anita eventually went on her own, leaving father, son and daughter together over weekends. Tony would look back on those times as a blessing in disguise, as they prepared him for a situation that soon became permanent.
Anita waged a three-year war with cancer that she and her husband hid from their kids until about a week before she died. A self-proclaimed momma's boy, Tony was crushed. Anita's reputation in the community drew an outpouring of support upon her passing, with Tony estimating that 100 friends and family members came through their house in the days after her death to offer their condolences.
Tony has honored his mother's memory with a tattoo on his arm. It depicts two birds holding up a ribbon in the sky that reads: R.I.P. Anita Creecy. The sport management major received his undergraduate degree in May. He was one of 10 athletes given the first-team National Academic Momentum Award for 2013. The award, given by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) Scholar-Baller Program, honors college athletes' academic impact on others.
At NC State, Tony met Jasmine, a UNC graduate, through a friend. She lives with Tristan a few minutes away from Tony as he finishes his college career.
On the field, the Wolfpack running back has been stellar, enduring a coaching change from Tom O'Brien to Dave Doeren and tallying 1,645 career yards from scrimmage with 14 touchdowns to date. He has started seven of nine games this season and is third on the team in rushing, with 234 yards.
"Tony is a great leader, not only by example, but vocally," Doeren said. "He's a hard worker, smart player, selfless, plays hard on special teams, gives great effort. I think he's an ultimate example of how you want guys to handle their role. Like any running back, he wants more carries, and if he didn't, you'd be concerned about him. But whatever he gets, I know he tries his hardest to do the best he can with it."
Creecy knows where that wherewithal comes from. He thinks it is what led him to Jasmine. And when Tristan is old enough, this will make it oh-so easy for his father to explain to him just how special his grandmother was.
"There's going to be so much to say I'm not even going to know where I'm going to really start, but what I am going to definitely start with is how amazing of a woman she was," Creecy said. "And I think that's why I met his mother, because she's the same exact way. She reminds me so much of my mother, it's kind of like a correlation. So I think that's why she was put in my life. She's an amazing woman. I'm going to say that your grandmother is so much like your mother, and that's going to be all I'm going to need to say, because his mother's so amazing."