The pain could be painfully heard early Thursday morning in the voice of Rod Reed.
The Tennessee State football coach had spent the evening prior at the hospital along with the family of former Smyrna High three-sport standout Wayne Jones, who had collapsed during TSU football practice earlier in the day and was pronounced dead later that night.
Nowhere in any coaching manual does it instruct a coach how to deal with such a situation. When you have nearly 100 young men under your charge, you feel responsible for every one of them, even the ones who make poor decisions and put themselves in harm’s way.
But here was Jones, who by all accounts was a fine and popular young man, going through a routine drill during a non-contact practice, dropping to the ground and losing consciousness, and then passing away right in front of your very own eyes.
“It was a very tough day, a sad day for all of us,” the third-year Tigers coach said. “My heart just goes out to the family. Hopefully, our players can pull through this and just continue.”
It was Reed who had thought enough of Jones to invite him to join the team as a walk-on after the team was already out of scholarships for the incoming class. The fact that Reed was redshirting Jones this season so he could have four years of eligibility remaining showed what the coach thought of Jones’ future as an athlete and a student.
“We really are going to miss him,” Reed said. “He was a great kid, one of those kind of kids who does everything you asked him to do. Never had any problems out of him.
“It was just tragic to see something happen to a kid like that at such a young age.”
While Reed was spending Wednesday night at the hospital trying to make sense of it all with the crushed family, the TSU football team gathered for a team meeting to hear the sad news. Reed addressed the team Thursday, and plans are being made to honor Jones on the team’s uniform and at his locker in the team facility.
The Tigers, who are in the midst of a breakout season sitting at 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, are off this coming weekend and return to action a week from Saturday in their regular-season finale at UT-Martin.
But all that seems so inconsequential this week with the passing of Jones at the way-too-early age of just 19 years old. “You just have to press on,” Reed said. “It’s unfortunate these things happen. You don’t ever think it is going to happen to you.
“You see it happen every now and then. And every time you see it, your heart goes out to those families.”
This time it hit home, though. “Just keep everybody uplifted and in prayers, especially for that young man’s mom and dad, the siblings, his grandmother, all the people who were there (at the hospital),” Reed said.
“My heart goes out to them. We will continue to keep Wayne and the family in our prayers.” As we all will as well.
Greg Pogue is host of the Wendy’s First Quarter on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. E-mail
him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.