Sitting idle last weekend might have been a blessing in disguise for the Tennessee State football team.
After 10 straight weeks of games, the Tigers were off last Saturday and coach Rod Reed believes that is what his team needed after the sudden death of a teammate. Freshman defensive back Wayne Jones of Smyrna fatally collapsed at practice on Wednesday and was pronounced dead an hour later. As of press time, a cause of death was still unknown.
“In light of this situation, I don’t know how well we’d be prepared to play,” Reed said Thursday. “The tragedy happened visible for everybody to see.”
With heavy hearts, they attempt to get back on the football field to try to extend their season. TSU enters Saturday’s regular-season finale at Tennessee-Martin with an 8-2 record. A win could propel the Tigers into the 20-team Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
In addition to memorializing his locker with a special name plate, decals were being added to the helmets with Jones’ initials and No. 47.
“We still have a mission left to accomplish,” Reed said. “We still have a game left in the season.”
As the Tigers try to go about business as usual it is anything but.
Reed cancelled practice last Thursday and the team didn’t practice again until Sunday. Amidst preparing for UT-Martin, the top team in the Ohio Valley Conference, the team also planned to attend the funeral.
“We’ve got to show our support to the family,” Reed said. “The dad was trying to make arrangements around the game. That’s the kind of person he is and that’s what he thinks Wayne would have wanted. I applaud him for that but I told him don’t make any special concessions for us. Whatever the case may be we’ll be there.”
Jones, a two-sport athlete at Smyrna, was a preferred walk-on who was redshirting this season. Reed believed the 19-year-old was on his way to receiving a scholarship.
“All Wayne wanted was an opportunity to play,” said interim president Portia Shields, who often stood next to Jones on the sidelines. “I asked [the team] to use that to help inspire them to continue moving forward in a most positive way as Wayne would have done.”