Editor’s note: DeLand native Quentin Wyche was convicted in 2013 in the death of a Florida International University football player, and served nearly eight years in custody before being released in July. Wyche maintains he acted in self-defense. The Beacon is following his case through the court system, as Wyche attempts to clear his name.

He was on the road to success — a road he had had his eyes on ever since he was a kid. There were plenty of obstacles and bumps ahead, but no one thing was ever going to stop him from becoming somebody.

Until it almost did.

More than nine years ago, then-22-year-old Quentin Wyche was at Florida International University in Miami, where he had pivoted from pursuing a football career and was on the road to becoming a physician’s assistant, when a chaotic brawl one night left one man dead of a stab wound and Wyche sentenced to 20.5 years in prison for the man’s murder.

According to police statements and court documents, the brawl began when Kendall Berry, a star running back with FIU’s Golden Panthers football team, along with other members of the team, confronted Wyche over an incident with Berry’s girlfriend earlier that day.

Wyche maintains he tried to leave the scene, and defended himself with a pair of scissors after the group chased him.

To those in DeLand who know him and his family, Wyche’s second-degree murder conviction is unthinkable.

Former City of DeLand Public Works Director Bo Davenport, a longtime leader in the Spring Hill community of southwest DeLand, is a first cousin of Quentin’s grandfather and considers Quentin a nephew.

“I never thought — he should have never gotten any time — running for his life and trying to defend himself,” Davenport said.

As a child, Wyche was reminiscent of his grandfather, Bobby Wyche, a longtime umpire at Sperling Sports Complex. They had the same smile, the same attitude, the same resourcefulness.

“Always the same smile on his face as a kid,” Davenport said. “[Bobby] was the same way, same smile. Quentin is the same. He took that from him.”

A longtime friend and former co-worker also remembered the smile.

“You know, DeLand is small. Everybody knows everybody,” Robert “R.J.” Simpson said. “Quentin was always the kid who kept a smile on his face. I don't care how mad you are — he gonna make you laugh.”

Wyche applied that upbeat attitude to everything, including the sports he played, from Little League to varsity.

Wyche’s mother had moved to Daytona Beach, and Quentin started high school at Mainland. In his senior year, he transferred to DeLand High School and immediately jumped into school activities. He was on the track team, and played varsity basketball and football with the Bulldogs.

It was on the football team that Wyche shone. In his first semester, in fall 2005, the DeLand Bulldogs narrowly missed being district champions, almost coming out on top of a group of six schools in the county for the first time in nearly a decade.

At Wyche’s graduation in 2006, he picked up two scholar-athlete scholarships, one of which was awarded by Greater Union First Baptist Church, the historic African American church in DeLand where his family has been members for generations.

After a brief stint playing football out of state, Wyche returned to DeLand and was hired by the city to work as a lifeguard at the Chisholm Community Center pool during the summer, while he was completing an Associate of Arts degree in biology at Daytona State College.

Simpson, seven years older than Wyche, worked with him as a lifeguard.

They often talked about the possibility of Wyche making a career in football.

“You know, some kids, you get that age and it doesn’t work out, they end up on the streets. Quentin was never like that — he always had his head on straight,” Simpson said. “He knew football would get him his education.”

College was the dream, said Wyche, his mother, and close friends and family members.

Pursuing football, even at the ripe old age of 21, landed Wyche at FIU, where, after a brief stint as a walk-on player, Wyche turned his attention to working full time, attending school as a biology major aimed at pre-med, and participating in intramural sports.

If football didn’t work out, Wyche had a backup plan for his backup plan: joining the Air Force. The military would help him pay for school, even if football wouldn’t.

It was after an intramural basketball championship game one night in March 2010 that football star Berry, along with his teammates, confronted Wyche.

The event, the trial, prison time and now his efforts to have his conviction overturned, have dominated Wyche’s life since then.

Throughout, his dogged determination to succeed remained the same. Instead of completing a bachelor’s degree, he earned every accreditation offered in prison. Instead of playing basketball against fellow students, he played against fellow prisoners. Instead of studying for exams, he studied the law, and successfully appealed to the court to mitigate his own sentence.

Instead of making a name for himself, Wyche, now 31, is trying to clear his name.

“I think they just dug a hole and buried my son,” his mother, Wendy Wyche, said. “Only problem with that hole they dug, it was full of water and [like a seed] he grew.”

Released from prison on July 30, 2019, Wyche began working full time at a concrete company just two weeks later.