With preseason football practice cranking up in just a few weeks, high school football coaches around the Big Bend have been feverishly preparing for the 2013 season.
Then Tuesday happened.
Once news began to spread that a tragic car accident had claimed the lives of three south Georgia football players — and left another critically injured — area coaches said they were stopped in their tracks.
“Things like this break you,” Madison County coach Mike Coe said. “I can’t even imagine what they are going through right now.”
“It puts football in such perspective,” said North Florida Christian coach Robert Craft. “I talked to our team about it this morning. You don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”
The accident, which happened as the four boys were driving home from an early morning football workout at Brooks County High in Quitman, claimed the lives of Jicarre Watkins, Shawn Waters and Johnie Parker. Teammate De’Vron Whitfield was flown to Shands Hospital in Gainesville for treatment.
Coe, whose Madison County team had just participated in a 7-on-7 session with Brooks County a few weeks ago, sent a message to Brooks coach Maurice Freeman once he heard the news.
“I just told him we were praying for him and that if they needed anything, we would be there and they shouldn’t hesitate to ask,” Coe said. “It’s a tough deal. Our whole team is praying for them.”
Craft, who previously coached in Moultrie, Ga., said he had the opportunity to compete with Freeman’s Brooks County teams as well. And he, like Coe, is intimately familiar with how important high school football is in those rural communities.
“Coach Freeman and his staff are like fathers to a lot of those kids,” Craft said. “In a smaller community like that, it’s on an even bigger scale. The idea of getting ready for the 2013 season has to be on the back burner right now. Our thoughts are certainly with them, their community and their coaching staff
“And this is a reminder to all of us. We talked to our kids about it, and I’m sure every coach in our area was doing the same thing.”
Coe did that and then some.
After bringing his players to compete in 7-on-7 drills at Lafayette-Mayo on Tuesday — less than 12 hours after the accident — the Madison County coach took to Twitter to remind other coaches to “love on their players.”
“We all get so caught up in winning and losing and the expectations of the fans,” Coe said. “But at the end of the day, this is about relationships and inspiring these young men to become good husbands and fathers. That’s what this is really about.”