A freshman walk-on football player for Tennessee State University is being mourned in two major communities Thursday after collapsing on the practice field Wednesday and dying at a Nashville hospital a short time later.
School officials said William Wayne Jones III passed out and became unresponsive just after practice started late Wednesday afternoon.
“He was doing a simple backpedal drill, he backpedaled, the ball was thrown to him, he caught it, then while bringing the ball back to the coach and he collapsed and that is as far as I can go into it,” said Tennessee State head football coach Rod Reed late Thursday during an emotional news conference.
The 19-year-old from Smyrna was transported to Baptist Hospital where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Jones died just before 6 p.m.
“My heart goes out to his family, and my heart goes out to the rest of our football team who are really grieving right now along with myself and the coaching staff,” said Reed.
“This is a very tragic day for our entire Tennessee State University community and we are devastated by the sudden passing of this young man,” TSU Athletics Director Teresa Phillips said.
She continued, “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this very difficult time. Our university and our football team are hurting as we feel the loss of one of our own. As a team and a family we will grieve alongside the family and do everything we can to help support them through this very difficult time.”
TSU President Dr. Portia Homes Shields added, “When a TSU Tiger dies, it is a tragedy for our university family. But it's harder because this was a tiger cub with such promise and leadership potential. I am personally affected by Wayne's passing because I interacted with him and the other Boot Campers regularly during this past summer.”
She continued, “Not only did Wayne exhibit a high level of maturity and sense of responsibility during the camp, he also made many friends through his sense of humor and excitement about being a student here. Wayne was an outstanding, personable young man, who was on his way to becoming a leader as shown by the skills he exhibited among his friends and team mates. We shared a space on the sidelines at our games where he could be heard cheering for the team and encouraging them.”
According the university, Jones had no known health problems.
The cause of his death remains under investigation with an autopsy that was scheduled to be performed on Thursday.
Jones graduated last spring from Smyrna High School where a sign in front of the school said “In memory of Wayne Jones 1993-2012”
Jones' cousin Jamaya Forbes, a junior at the high school, took a picture of the sign honoring her loved one.
“When I got the news last night I did not want to believe it, and then I got in contact with his dad and he told me it was true,” she told Nashville's News 2. “I am going to miss him very much, his laughs, walks down the hallway, his joyfulness being around him.”
Along with starring on the football field as a wide receiver and defensive back for Smyrna High School, Wayne Jones was a standout in both basketball and track
“Wayne was my rocket, dependable resource, to get on the track and give everything, and go until he could not go anymore,” said track coach Casey Newsom. “He could have been in anything anywhere, and he could have been molded into the best he could be.”
“You really don't think that someone who plays three sports for 19 years that something like this would happen,” added Smyrna teammate Dashan Williams. “It's just so shocking.”
“Wayne worked extremely hard, he was one of the hardest working kids I have ever coached, and anytime you get a chance to coach a young man like that it is special,” said Smyrna head football coach Matt Williams.
TSU indicated they are planning several events over the next few days to honor Wayne Jones beginning Thursday night with a prayer gathering on campus.