In one of the more crucial moments of Starkville’s football season, head coach Chris Jones glanced into the night sky and prayed.
“Ian,” Jones said, “please help us win this game.”
Starkville, once the No. 1 team in the state, clung to a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter last month against Madison Central. Jones paced the sideline as Starkville’s second loss in two weeks unfolded before him.
Madison Central had started on its own 2-yard line but had already moved past midfield. The Yellow Jackets reeled as the clock approached zero. Jones’ mind drifted away.
A month had passed since Ian Reed, the team’s 24-year-old videographer, died in a car accident. Reed’s presence increased the energy and positivity inside Starkville’s program. He always smiled. He encouraged people to pursue their dreams. His camera made the Yellow Jackets want to jump higher, run faster and lift a little more weight so they could later see themselves in a video. The players considered Reed a brother, adding him to group text messages. They called him Coach. His death left the program in a depressed haze.
Jones looked up and asked for Reed’s help, a prayer in a desperate time. Four plays later, as time expired, a potential Madison Central touchdown fell incomplete.
“I don’t know if Ian did it,” Jones said two weeks later, “or God did.”
SIX STATE CHAMPIONSHIP trophies crowd a table just inside the main entrance to Starkville’s fieldhouse, a constant reminder of the program’s standard of excellence.
The Yellow Jackets (ranked No. 5 in the state) start their chase for their seventh title this Friday with a playoff game against South Panola. Reed, who started filming the team in January until his death just hours after a Starkville win, still provides the team inspiration as it aims for playoff redemption.
Starkville lost the state title game last season, and in the weeks that followed Reed sent Jones a message through Twitter. Reed worked for WCBI, a TV station in Columbus, a city no more than a 25-minutes’ drive from Starkville. He felt unfulfilled and underutilized in his production job.
Reed, a Gulfport native, had spent the last five years in Starkville while he studied journalism and communications at Mississippi State. He thought working with a program like Starkville provided him a greater chance to gain exposure. He asked Jones if he could document the team.
“So,” Jones said, “how much you charging?”
“I’ll do it for free,” Reed said. “I just want a chance.”
The players and coaches questioned him at first. It took time to see his passion and his work ethic. But when the coaches needed help during a drill, Reed threw passes or ran inside to grab more footballs. He weaved between squat racks during workouts, filming as the players grunted under heavy weights and coaches yelled “Finish!”
At the same time, Reed worked the graveyard shift at the TV station, sometimes staying up from 2:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. then driving to Starkville to record the team. He later quit his job and found work at a rental car service to pay the bills so he could spend more time at Starkville.
Some nights, Reed’s roommate, Chris Bolton, heard him tapping on the space bar of his laptop, editing videos at 2 a.m.
“You’re out here doing this for free, but you’re the GOAT,” senior Jalil Clemons told Reed. “You’re going to be the best videographer in the nation.”