Flagler County, FL – It’s been a year of heartbreak for the Gilyard family, first with the loss of a promising young life just steps into adulthood with the passing of Nehemiah at the age of 18, followed by several family members in quick succession.

On the day Nehemiah would have walked across the stage to accept his high school diploma, his closest friends and family paid a visit to his final resting place. Surrounding his father Sim Gilyard in love, it was a special moment for the young men who will now help carry on their friend’s legacy after a car accident tragically took his life.

It was a very special moment and as he pulled up it was touching for him, because the boys’ presence was a surprise.  Knowing the depth of their relationships with Nehemiah, it heartened him to see the boys take the time to come visit Neo before their graduation ceremony.

Lasting Legacy

A foundation was started in Nehemiah’s name, and in 2021 the Nehemiah Gilyard Scholarship Foundation awarded its first recipient just months after Neo’s passing on February 14th.

“Instead of raising money for his funeral, we wanted to give that money to a scholar athlete to further their education, going to college, military, or a trade school, so here we are today,” said his father.

“Ty’Shawn Blount, we provided $2,000 the first year. This year we awarded two scholarships, so we gave $1,000 apiece. We want to keep Neo’s name alive so every year we want to honor him and it’s going to be something that we do in a positive way.”

The scholarship fund, which the Gilyard family plans to administer under the Flagler County Education Foundation, awarded two of Neo’s longtime friends and fellow athletes this year, selected by Neo’s brothers, with scholarships for $1,000 each.

“It makes us feel really good. They’re humble, Neo was humble, and they’re just great young men. All of them,” he said of their exceptional leadership.

As Close As Brothers 

It’s something Malik Daley, Flagler Palm Coast High School 2022 dual enrollment graduate and Mainland High School 2022 graduate and number 17 football player Jared “Bird” Lloyd are grateful in many ways, to receive.

“It feels good. In all honesty it’s amazing. I’m blessed and grateful to be gifted this scholarship from Neo’s family,” he said.

“I moved from Connecticut to Florida my freshman year going into sophomore year for football. When I transferred to FPC I didn’t know anybody so when I first got there I needed people to lift with. The first person I ever lifted with was Neo. Neo and I were really close and I got really close with his brother Malakai who was older than us, so all three of us used to hang out and then we used to hang out as a group for like the football team. Then his little brother came to the school, Elyjah, Ely and I got close with him and then I was close with all three of them. (Like a second family).”

“Literally the day before, I didn’t even know I was getting the scholarship. I was at Malakai’s house with Malakai and Ely, and they knew about it and I didn’t know anything about this. Ely, I talk to him almost every day. The way they honored me with the scholarship, they came to my house and woke me up out of my sleep. I was delusional, I didn’t know who was waking me up and seeing a scholarship, and then after I went to the gravesite to meet up with Malakai and a group of people who knew Neo. And then me and Malik we took pictures together.”

It was an emotional moment for Neo’s family, including his father Sim Gilyard, as well.

“He was grateful to see us there but it was emotional. When we went to that gravesite it was Neo’s day to graduate and it was a little emotional, but it was good spirits all around,“ said Lloyd.

Bird left Flagler Palm Coast High School after the passing of Nehemiah, following football coach Travis Roland to Mainland High School, but talks nearly every day to Neo’s little brother Ely, and older brother Malakai Grant. Grant was chosen as the 2019 Daytona Beach News Journal Defensive Player of the Year, and is currently a Colorado State University linebacker.

The friends have remained close, and Lloyd is set to take his place at Missouri State as a football player where he hopes to wear Neo’s number 17.

“I feel my dream is to keep Neo’s name living, the number 17, when I go to Missouri State. I leave in less than a week to go play football there, so my value of the scholarship really doesn’t match the meaning of it,” said Lloyd, hoping to highlight the Gilyard family.

“The goal is to go to Missouri State and wear 17 all four years. If I go to the NFL 17 is my number. I do not want to change it.”

Receiving the scholarship in Neo’s honor is a priceless gift he will forever treasure.

“I know he’s smiling above probably jumping up and down running around, knowing him. I know Malik and I getting the award is him watching over us. I know he’s fine with us two getting it. Neo was a great human being that got taken from us early in life. Me, others, his brothers, his family, we’re all continuing to live his name for him.”

Malik Daley also spent his senior year coping with the loss of his friend. The aspiring law school student said their relationship goes back a decade or more, growing up in the youth football scene and forging unbreakable bonds.

“Me, Malakai and Neo we started off as friends and grew closer as we entered high school,” shared Daley. “Losing him definitely had a big toll, an effect on me because he was a close friend of mine and it had never really happened before like that so seeing that happen, it was a shock. Anything can happen. Anyone can get taken away too soon. So don’t take anything for granted.”

Together with Class of ’22 track star Michael Crockett, who will begin studying health sciences this fall to become a cardiologist, the pair created keychains in Nehemiah’s honor and shared them with the family and classmates throughout the school year.

Michael Crockett and Malik Daley.

“It was something we could give out to the community that everyone could be grateful for,” said Daley.

Stepping away from athletics, the young graduates have higher education on their minds as they carry their friend with them in their hearts.

“When you lose a person like Neo, it affects a whole community,” said Crockett. “Something like that can happen to anyone. It’s something just that quick.”

“I’m proud to be a recipient and know that his legacy will still continue,” said Daley. “I’m not going to forget about him, I know that.”

If you would like more information regarding the foundation or would like to donate to the Nehemiah Gilyard Scholarship Foundation please email:  support@nehemiahgilyardscholarshipfoundation.com