Trey Rich, a Belhaven University football player, had just left his job on his bike when he was struck from behind by a motorist on Christmas Eve.
The driver of the vehicle, Reginald Davis, is at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in good condition, officials said.
Richland Police Chief Russel James said Rich had just left work on Wednesday and was riding down 49 when he was struck from behind. It’s not yet clear if charges will be pressed against Davis in connection with Rich’s death.
“The driver went another 200-300 yards out of control and crashed into another truck,” James said.
He said police had not had a chance to talk to Davis about the accident yet because he had been hospitalized.
A release from Belhaven said Davis was drinking, but James said toxicology and blood tests have not yet returned on him.
Rich, 26, a senior wide receiver from Memphis, was pronounced dead on the scene. He leaves behind a team that respected his work ethic and what more than a few people described as his “infectious smile.”
Belhaven Head Coach Hal Mumme said Rich’s bright smile and positive attitude made him an integral part of the team.
“He was always happy, always willing to do what you ask,” Mumme said. “He really endeared himself to his teammates.”
Rich was older than most of the other players because he had taken some time to work his way through his schooling.
“He was a hardworking kid in everything he did, school and football and everything else,” Mumme said.
Coach Gene Hudson said Rich, a transfer from Missouri Valley College, was the kind of player that uplifted his teammates regardless of the situation.
“He played every play like it was his last, he practiced hard, he was always positive and upbeat. Even when things weren’t going his way, he wasn’t down on himself. He would work to pick up the other guys,” he said. “Trey was one of those kids you’d want on your team regardless of talent, because his attitude was so infectious about doing things the right way. He was just a high character kid.”
Rich also had a giant heart and didn’t know how to quit, Hudson said. Football was his passion.
“He was chasing that dream, hoping for that chance to have that good season and get the tryouts, hoping to get an invite to a camp,” Hudson said. “At 26, some people would quit, but Trey wasn’t going to give up.”
An example of that, Hudson said, was when Rich was struggling during practice, the coaches moved him down to practice with the junior varsity for a while. That’s a move that would have discouraged a lot of people, to say the least.
“Here he’s 26, and usually at that age, they’d feel like they’re at a certain level talentwise and that’s a really hard pill to swallow, but he took it as a chance to get better and gave it all he got,” Hudson said. “He was better than everyone out there on JV and knew that. He knew it was a step down, but did his job with a smile on his face.”
Mumme said Rich had recently expressed a desire to go into coaching.
“I had talked to him about that recently. He was sitting in (receivers) Coach (Bobby) Blizzard’s office, talking about his major and how he did in school, and he mentioned that,” Mumme said. “He would have been good at anything he did.”
Hudson said Rich did anything he was told, no matter how big or small the job was, even down to being the one who stayed behind to clean up the field if coaches asked for volunteers.
“He was that guy, you really wanted to see him be successful in life,” Hudson said. “He knew what it took to be a part of a team and he was all about doing the right thing.”
“He would have been a heck of a coach. He understood that being athletic is a part of it, but he understood there was so many other things that go into it,” Hudson said.
Rich’s Twitter account had frequent posts that simply said, “Thanking God for another day!” His second to last post, dated Dec. 20, said, “Spending Christmas alone this yr.”
Mumme said recently when he left for Christmas break, Rich was one of the last people he saw before he left town. He said it’s shocking and sad to think he won’t be there when he gets back, and that the team will have to pull together to deal with the loss.
“It’s just like a death in any family, you mourn, and you try to remember the legacy they left you,” he said. “We’ll move on and honor that legacy by doing like Trey would have done, and that’s work hard, go to school, and play hard.”
Hudson’s voice cracked a little when he talked about how Rich’s loss will impact the team.
“I’m hoping we bounce back. This gives us all a life lesson: Don’t take a day for granted, don’t think you’re guaranteed that game next week, or that you’ll be here tomorrow,” Hudson said. “Sometimes God calls us home before we’re ready. You can’t take any days off, or take anything for granted because tomorrow isn’t promised.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Therese Apel and Adam Ganucheau