HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Jarod Conner plays for two people. One is here, and one isn’t.
The one who is here is his daughter, 1-year-old Royal Conner. She enjoys going to the zoo and she loves dogs — when she sees one, she barks.
The one who isn’t here was his coach, Derek Jarvis. Everyone called him “Red.” He was a big man who knew how to work with children and teenagers. At Hattiesburg, his signature phrase was “F.O.E.,” which means “family over everything.”
“He was like a father to all of us,” said Conner, who scored 53 touchdowns for Hattiesburg last season and is the final member of the 2018 Clarion Ledger Dandy Dozen.
In August 2016, Conner was at home when he received a phone call. His girlfriend at the time was going into labor. He was about to become a father. Conner rushed to the hospital, but the labor was long, so Conner left. He had to go to school.
While Conner, a sophomore, was at school, his daughter was born. She’ll turn 2 years old soon. Conner sees her almost every day. He wants to “give her the world.”
“She’s a princess,” he said.
More than a year after Royal’s birth, Hattiesburg played Laurel in the south state title game. Conner, a running back who plays quarterback, stood in the shotgun facing Laurel’s goal line. He gathered a snap and threw a fade to the back of the end zone for one of his two touchdown passes in the victory. He also rushed 34 times for 255 yards. He even caught a 14-yard pass.
“Jarod Conner is a winner,” Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance said. “It doesn’t matter where you put him on the football field, he’s going to find ways to be successful.”
Hattiesburg lost its only game of the season a week later in the state championship.
After the state championship game, Vance met with Conner in his office. Conner had thrown for 2555 yards and 25 touchdowns with just five interceptions while rushing for 1443 yards and 28 touchdowns in one season. But Vance told Conner, who weighed 186 pounds, he had to get bigger and faster.
Soon, Conner started working out with Jarvis every day.
On May 2, Conner worked out in Jarvis’ home gym with Jarvis, Jarvis’ wife Sadora and another teammate. Jarvis had broken his foot a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, he passed out.
Vance said the broken foot caused a blood clot. Jarvis died in a hospital a later that day. He was 34 years old.