Virgil Starks stood with Chris Evans Saturday his arm around the senior linebacker and that signature wide smile spread across his face.
Just hours later, Auburn's Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Support Services passed away from a heart attack returning home after AU's game against UT Martin.
Evans said the sudden death of Starks is still hard to accept for him and his teammates.
"It hit me pretty hard," Evans said. "The things Virgil did for us, academics and stuff, it's going to take time for that to set in and really hit us."
Starks, 46, oversaw the academics of all of AU's student-athletes for the last 10 years, impacting the lives of many young Auburn men and women on a professional and personal level.
"It's a shock to all of us," AU head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He's been a huge part of these kids being able to work toward an education and get a degree and play football at the same time."
Tuberville said the team discussed Starks' passing Sunday.
"We talked about it a long time with the players," Tuberville said. "He's very close to the players. He's kind of like a head coach in academics. And sometimes the players think that he was on them a little bit too hard, but as I told them, he was doing it for the betterment of them.
"He took his job seriously. He worked at it hard, day and night and did a lot for the program."
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he will remember Starks for the infectious enthusiasm and the determination he brought to his job every day.
"Virgil was passionate about all facets of his life and cared for Auburn student-athletes as if they were his own children," Jacobs said. "He will be dearly missed by all that he touched. Our thoughts and prayers are with Virgil's family, friends and our Auburn Family in these difficult times."
Saturday's Senior Day ceremony was the perfect personification of Starks' passionate and caring nature. Evans' family couldn't make it to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the pregame festivities so he was expecting to stand alone has he was recognized in front of 80,000 fans.
"When I ran out there past Aubie, I just saw him there. He was smiling. Showing all 32 of his teeth like he always does," Evans said.
"Over the years that I've been here he would always go out of his way to put a smile on your face even if you're feeling down. Even if your grades aren't going the way the way they're supposed to be going he'll tell you to just hang in there until the end and things will go good for you."
A native of Hartselle, Ala., Starks is survived by his wife, Donna, and three daughters, Carolyn, Victoria, and Anastasia.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Tigers Unlimited Foundation in memory of Virgil Starks. All donations will benefit Starks' passion, the academic and life-skills enhancement of Auburn student-athletes.