The start of football practice in small towns across Mississippi creates a buzz.
In Ecru, a small town in Pontotoc County, Monday’s official opening of the 2017 prep season ended with anything but excitement.
North Pontotoc learned Monday night of the death of Ty Rayford, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior tackle beginning his final season for the Vikings.
“I didn’t really believe it. I don’t believe it now,” said former teammate Brooks Shannon, now a wide receiver at West Georgia. “I grew up around him. He was kind of like a cousin. He was a good friend.”
Rayford’s death did not occur at the school. According to a source, he died at home after practice. News circulated Tuesday morning of his death. Details were still unavailable Monday evening.
“Ty was big in stature but humble and kind in his heart toward all those he came in contact with,” the school released in a statement.
Shannon and Rayford played on the same roster for a couple of seasons, but they spent more time riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes, Shannon said.
Shannon said he believes college football offers could have been coming Rayford’s way this season.
Rayford participated in a Fortius Project combine in the spring and Southern Elite Sports Network editor John Luke McCord said Rayford would have been an impact tackle this season. McCord said you knew Rayford was in the room because of his sizeable presence. On the field, McCord said Rayford was a force but also kept his cool when things got heated in drills.
“He was a cool person, a motivator,” Shannon said. “He didn’t want to give up his dreams. He was big on that. He motivated other people, made sure they were good, whatever they were going through. He could have had a big impact for North Pontotoc this year. With his size and his frame, I heard he went to some camps and they couldn’t move him.”
North Pontotoc will open the season Aug. 18 at Saltillo. A prayer vigil was scheduled for Tuesday night for a community hit hard.
“It’s small. Everybody is friends. They all grew up together. I’m pretty sure they’re torn up,” Shannon said. “Everybody is sad, just can’t believe it. I still can’t even believe it.”