JOHNSON CITY — Ahead of their first full practice on Monday, East Tennessee State University’s football team held a meeting.

Around 9:40 p.m. on Monday night, star running back Quay Holmes posted a message to Twitter saying the team “will not be doing any football related activities” until they completed a unity march to raise awareness about racial injustice scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. In his message, Holmes said the team couldn’t sit back and be quiet and called on anyone interested to participate. Hundreds got the message.

“This is something we started as an ETSU family,” Holmes said.

Leaving from the Mini Dome on campus, hundreds of students, athletes, staff and community members showed up to march down the sidewalks on West State of Franklin, eventually ending in a rally at the Founders Park amphitheater. It was one of, if not the largest, Black Lives Matter demonstrations to take place in Johnson City after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

“We wanted to get this thing done because this is so much bigger than football,” Holmes said. “It’s so much bigger than just football, basketball — it’s a life thing. We definitely wanted to get this done before we moved forward with our football season.”

Holmes said the large crowd “just shows a lot of people share the same feelings we do.”

“There’s been a lot of wrongdoing, I think, going on in this country and I know a lot of us have done marches and protests back home, but why not do one where we go to school at — a school that we play for?” said Holmes, a Georgia native. “We just wanted to bring awareness to this region and let people know that we’re united in this.”

Scott Carter, the university’s athletic director, said ETSU felt the need to support its players and said he was proud of the students for putting the march together.

“It’s almost emotional, and it may be that way before the day is over, but it’s surreal to take it all in,” Carter said. “I think it just personifies how we all care for one another, how we all appreciate one another. When the lights are on and the ball’s in play we’re cheering for one another, but none of that is here today.

“This is about our hearts and our souls and our minds and being the best people we can be,” Carter continued. “Everybody’s got their role to play, and it’s wonderful to see.”

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