PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- This week was supposed to be about golf for the members of East Carolina, instead it has been a cold lesson in the cruelties of life.

One of the team’s top recruits, Trevor Times, disappeared Monday at a popular swimming spot in James City, Virginia's College Creek and though the body has not yet been discovered witnesses saw the 18-year-old struggle while trying to swim to a sandbar and then go under the tide.

The team was at dinner Monday night when their head coach received the phone call about Times. He broke the news to a stunned table of players. The team’s senior and leader, Harold Varner said the mood went from jovial to somber.

“It was really tough,” Varner said. “We sat at dinner going from let’s make match play to let’s wake up tomorrow. It certainly put things in perspective.”

Varner had eagerly taken over the role of leader at the beginning of the season. He thought he would be giving advice about golf. Now he finds himself talking to his younger teammates about the fragility of life.

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“This week I just want to preach to them to be appreciative,” Varner said. “I don’t think I need to say anything, but I’ve been there if they need me.”

Times was a special recruit and one of the few Varner had intense interaction with both on and off the golf course.

“Of all the recruits this is the first one I played golf with,” Varner said. “When he came down another time I spent time with him. He reminds me a lot of myself. What I admire about him is that he wanted to learn so much. He is so hungry to learn. I know this would have been a good breeding ground for him.”

Varner hasn’t gotten over the shock of Times’ death, still speaking about him in the present tense, hoping like many are, that this is a cruel hoax and he will turn up safe and sound. The reality though creeps into Varner’s thoughts and it has been hard to focus on golf the last two days.

“It’s been really eye opening,” Varner said. “It’s not the way you want to start the week. You understand what’s important.”

One of the first things Varner did when he found out the news was to call his mother.

“I talked to my mom this morning,” Varner said. “You appreciate being able to talk to your mom. Even if I shot 80 today it doesn’t matter. You realize what’s important.”

The two of them talked about coping with the tragedy and what Varner could do to stay focused this week. He shot an even-round 71 and is tied for 13th after the first round.

“You want to say everything happens for a reason, but it’s tough to make sense of it,” Varner said. “You just have to lean on your faith and stay strong.”

The team wanted to reach out to Times’ family but didn’t have to. Times’ mother sent them an email wishing them good luck. The Pirates have dedicated this tournament to Times, putting the initial TT on their hats as a remembrance to him.

“He was a part of this team and always will be,” Varner said. “It’s the least we can do.”