COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A lasting legacy created through tragedy.
The newly established Jake Panus Walk-On Football Endowed Scholarship will benefit future Gamecocks. It honors Jake’s life and his Carolina passion.
“Really about taking Jake where he couldn’t go while he was here with us,” said Jake’s father, Stephen Panus. “Getting him there in spirit was important to my family and me.”
Sadly on August 9th, 2020, Jake lost his life. He was a passenger killed in what the family describes as a senseless DUI car accident on Block Island, Rhode Island, while away with his girlfriend’s family.
“He was an immense, magnetic personality,” said Stephen. “He radiated joy. He had such a big heart. He cared so much for others. Served others.”
Panus longed to follow in his dad’s footsteps by attending UofSC and becoming a Gamecock student. He made his first trip to the Carolina campus in 2018 and returned in 2019.
On one of his visits, he met fan favorite Marcus Lattimore. On each trip, he attended football games, which only enhanced his love for the Garnet and Black.
“When he went to the games, the energy, and the electricity, it’s a powerful experience,” Stephen added. “He identified with it. That was his goal.”
His dad added Jake was a terrific big brother to Liam and an outstanding athlete who competed in numerous sports.
Less than a month on the job, Gamecock coach Shane Beamer reached out to the Panus family to offer condolences.
Two weeks later, Stephen and his wife Kellie came up with a way to connect Jake to his dream school. He messaged Beamer about creating a walk-on scholarship honoring Jake. Carolina’s coach was fully supportive.
Last week, Beamer and UofSC Athletics Director Ray Tanner surprised Stephen in our zoom interview to learn more about Jake and his Gamecock fighting spirit.
“He loved to compete and loved the brotherhood of competing with a group of guys,” Stephen told Tanner and Beamer. “He was a natural leader on and off the field. People gravitated toward him. He was a fearless, gritty competitor. He played with a reckless sense of purpose.”
“He’s describing the ideal guy to me that we have playing football here at Carolina,” Beamer mentioned.
“Around here, we say forever to thee,” Tanner said. “This is really a celebration. We wish the circumstance was different.”
“To be able to honor his legacy means a lot to me, and I’m honored I was able to have a small part in it for sure,” Beamer said.
“He was so keenly focused on becoming a Gamecock,” Stephen added. “Now that he will forever be a Gamecock, there are no words.”
Along with this walk-on scholarship, the family created the Jake Panus Memorial Scholarship in partnership with their church back home in Connecticut. It benefits children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Jake visited it in 2019 on a church mission trip.
“He came home changed,” Stephen recalled about Jake’s experience. “It was one of those indelible experiences that showed him how grateful he was for what he had. He wanted to help more.”
“Jake was authentic. The best word I can use to describe Jake. He was a real authentic kid. Way beyond his years. Confident, funny, charismatic, and most important abundantly caring for others.”
“We miss him dearly. It’s important we continue to see his light shine upon others.”
In a special tribute to Jake and the two scholarships in his honor, Kentucky Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie will wear a blanket sporting both scholarship logos. Horse trainer Doug O’Neil has been a huge supporter of the Jake Scholarship fund.
The race takes place this weekend. And all of Gamecock nation will indeed be behind Hot Rod Charlie on Saturday, May 1st, which you can watch live on WIS-TV.