TSU continues search for answers in death of 'fine young man ... gifted athlete'

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 7:48pm

Tennessee State and football coach Rod Reed still don’t have answers for the sudden death of 19-year-old freshman defensive back Wayne Jones, who collapsed during practice on Wednesday.

For the first time since the tragic incident, Reed met with his team on Thursday afternoon and cancelled practice due to “broken-heartedness.” The Tigers, who are idle this weekend, won’t practice again until Sunday

TSU (8-2) ends the regular season on Nov. 17 at Tennessee-Martin with a spot in the playoffs on the line.

“We still have a mission that we want to accomplish. We still have a game left in the season,” Reed said at a press conference on Thursday. “But for an incident to happen like it happened [Wednesday] it has touched all of these young men in a great way. They are truly saddened.”

TSU students have organized three memorial rallies, which started with a prayer and revival service at Elliott Hall on Thursday night. A candlelight vigil will be held at 5 p.m. on Friday at an undetermined location on campus. A memorial service is planned for noon on Monday at Kean Hall.

Reed said the team will attend funeral services, which have not been arranged by the family yet.

“We’re all in. We’re one Tiger,” Reed said. “We’ve got to show our support to the family.”

Jones’ family requested an autopsy Thursday to determine the cause of death. Reed said Jones did not have any pre-existing health conditions and was participating in a non-contact drill shortly after 4 p.m. After backpedaling to make a catch Jones went to return the football to an assistant coach and collapsed.

“I saw it out of the corner of my eye,” Reed said. “I saw a guy go down and I saw the [athletic] trainers tending to him. ... I asked who it was and they said it was Wayne, and I was with him from that time on.”

Jones was transported to Baptist Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 5:50 p.m. Senior administrators and the rest of the coaching staff delivered the news to the team at the school’s indoor practice facility. Reed went to the hospital and stayed with the family until 3 a.m.

Shortly before Thursday’s press conference, Reed, along with athletic director Teresa Phillips and interim president Portia Shields, met with the entire team.

“I find them to be sorry, mournful, angry, disturbed because they don’t see how it could possibly have happened to one of their own at such a young age,” Shields said. “… All Wayne wanted was to play. I asked them to use that to help inspire them to continue moving forward in a most positive way as Wayne would have done.”

Shields knew Jones personally. She had interacted with him at freshman “boot camp” during the summer. She also remembers standing on the sidelines next to the enthusiastic Jones, who cheered on his teammates.

The preferred walk-on was redshirting this season with the hope of earning a scholarship. Without any scholarships left for defensive backs, Reed invited the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder to join the team.

A two-sport athlete at Smyrna High School, Jones possessed a fiery determination, Reed said.

Two weeks into the season, Reed said Jones came into his office wanting to know why he wasn’t playing. Reed pointed to proven talent in front of him — All-American Steven Godbolt and LSU transfer Ronnie Vinson. That didn’t matter to Jones.

“He wanted to compete,” Reed said. “I told him, 'You show me what you can do on scout team, you go down, you run down on these kickoffs, you do the things that need to be done and you’ll get your opportunity.' Ever since that day he was a 100 miles an hour on everything. ... He was a fine young man, a gifted athlete and he is going to be sorely missed.”