Although halfway across the country and far from Eastern Jackson County, UConn player Jasper Howard’s death evoked some painful memories for a pair of football coaches with area ties who had to deal with a similar tragedy during their stint coaching at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
The University of Connecticut’s football team suited up Saturday against West Virginia for the first time since the tragic stabbing death of Huskies’ cornerback Jasper Howard.
Although halfway across the country and far from Eastern Jackson County, Howard’s death evoked some painful memories for a pair of football coaches with area ties who had to deal with a similar tragedy during their stint coaching at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
Terry Noland, a 1966 graduate of Van Horn High School and Jeff Floyd a 1975 graduate of Blue Springs, were head coach and defensive coordinator respectively at UCM in 1993 when Mules’ defensive back Wesley Drummond was shot and killed during a midweek doctor’s visit to his hometown of St. Louis.
Drummond was a walk-on for the Mules in 1991 out of Parkway Central in suburban St. Louis. After playing as a true freshman, Drummond had earned a scholarship and starting position the following year. A combination corner/safety, Drummond was sidelined in 1993 because of injuries suffered in a separate shooting. The circumstances of Drummond’s death still reverberates within Noland and Floyd to this day.
“The first time Wesley got shot, I got a call in the middle of the night from (a Mules’ player),” Floyd said Thursday, recalling the incident. “I called Terry, and we were up the rest of the night trying to find out what had happened. About halfway through the next day, with the help of (the parent of another Mules’ player) we found out that Wesley had been shot but it looked like was going to make it.
“The day Wesley got killed was a blur as most days are during the season but even more so because of those events. We were in the middle of preparing for Missouri Western and were having a successful season. Terry got word of what happened and called the coaches together.
“Everyone took it hard, Terry especially. He is a very emotional man and always cared greatly about the players. I think he has a special affinity for the St. Louis kids because that is where he coached high school for a time.”
Noland said he definitely had a special place in his heart for Drummond, just 20 years old when he died and the first in his family to attend college.
“If everybody knew what he had to overcome in his life to get where he was – Wes was trying to set a new standard for his whole family,” Noland said of Drummond, who was walking with a young niece and nephew when he was shot and killed. “To have done what he did – he stayed in (high) school, succeeded academically (at UCM) and to start on our football team and then have it end so tragically...there is something wrong with our society.”
Noland, with the aid of long-time UCM athletic director Jerry Hughes, established the Wesley M. Drummond Courage Award after Drummond’s death. The award, presented to the Mules player that best displays Drummond’s heart and courage, is still awarded to this day during the fourth week of the Mules season in the case of a victory.
“The kid from UConn, I don’t know much about him or his background,” Noland said. “But, that is why I felt it was important that we kept the kids in our program around – including Wes – even during the summers so that he did not have to go back to that environment. It just amazing. We keep talking about all the things that keep happening in our society and nothing is different than it was when Wes was killed.”
What is different, Floyd said, is his outlook on life since Drummond’s death.
“I am hesitant to speak for the entire staff, but I think we all had essentially the same feelings,” Floyd said. “We were of course profoundly saddened by what had happened but also angry at the senseless violence that would take the life of a young man who we all knew only to be a fun, lovable, hard working young man.
“We were not only mad and not understanding why Wesley would go back into harm’s way in the first place, but also very angry at ourselves that we would allow this to happen and wondering what we could have and should have done to prevent it.”