Tuesday started as a typical morning for the football team at West Carroll High School.
The War Eagles practiced in the morning and finished up just before 11 a.m. The players returned to the fieldhouse and changed clothes before going home for rest and lunch. The coaches went into the office to go over how practice went and what the team needs to work on after the first two days back from the TSSAA-mandated two-week break.
Then the main doors to the fieldhouse flew open after a few minutes of silence in the locker room, signaling the end of normalcy for the program.
Junior lineman Blake Ray had been in a car accident, and it was bad.
“The coaches started rushing out the door after we grabbed his physical form sheet with important medical and contact info and any medical equipment we might need when we got there,” said West Carroll assistant coach Shane DePriest. “We got there as fast as we could.”
The place where the collision occurred was on Highway 79, less than two miles away from the school, between Atwood and Trezevant. The coaches arrived on the scene, and a few of Blake’s teammates were there along with emergency personnel.
“We got there too late,” DePriest said. “They said there was nothing we could do but help them get in contact with family and friends.”
A Tennessee Highway Patrol report on the fatal accident was not immediately available on Tuesday.
The coaching staff spent the afternoon coming in and out of the fieldhouse talking with players in person or on the phone. They also contacted coaches who’d recently moved on to other schools who’d worked with Blake.
“Blake was a great kid who the other teachers would always brag on about how hard he worked and how he always behaved during class,” said Josh Fronabarger, who resigned as West Carroll’s head coach in May and is now the offensive coordinator at Crockett County. “He was always one of those kids who never got into trouble and was always doing the right thing.”
Former West Carroll line coach Tony Bond, who’s coaching at Henry County now, said Blake was consistent.
“He was never one of those kids who stood out for anything specifically he did,” Bond said. “But he did everything great that you wanted him to.”
Blake was expected to get a lot of reps as a substitute player last year, but he was hampered by knee injuries that lingered all the way through spring. All three coaches said he continued to come to practice and try to contribute in some way even when he couldn’t play.
“He wanted to help the other guys get better, too, and I trusted him to run drills in one area while I worked with other guys in another,” Bond said.
DePriest said Blake took on another coaching-type role in the spring.
“He was consistently sticking around after practice working with the freshmen and trying to get them better,” DePriest said. “Then some days he’d stick around and ask me to run with him because he wanted to get better.
“Some of his teammates said he worked hard during this (break) where the coaches couldn’t work with them that he kept working to make himself better and stay in shape.”
Josh Wolfe, West Carroll’s new head coach, confirmed the team won’t have practice Wednesday and will have grief counselors available for anyone to talk.
“This is one of those situations where football and getting ready for the season obviously take a back seat to more important issues,” Wolfe said. “This is a tough situation for everyone who knew Blake. Our prayers are with his family.”
Bond said prayer is one thing he’s sure will help those dealing with the loss of Blake.
“One of the players called me and let me know, and he told me that Blake was one of the few guys on the team he knew without a doubt was right with the Lord,” Bond said. “That says a lot about that young man that one of his teammates felt confident in saying that.
“I don’t know if he went around talking about Christ everywhere he went, but no one that knew him doubted where he stood in his faith in God. This one hurts, and it will hurt for a while. The biggest thing anyone can do for Blake’s family, friends, teammates, coaches, whoever is to pray for them, because this one will be difficult to deal with.”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751