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Natchez head coach impacted many

I remember the first time I met Lance Reed.

One sweltering August afternoon in 1989, literally days after a court-ordered desegregation of our public schools had Natchez upside down just in time for my senior year, I spurred my yellow 1974 Datsun to now-overgrown Margaret Martin Stadium for football practice.

Too small and unathletic to play, I wanted to ensure my spot as manager at the new Natchez High School like I’d enjoyed at South Natchez.

Still wearing my oxford shirt and khakis from my job at International Paper Company, I bolted to the sidelines to see what work needed to be done for the newly named Natchez Bulldogs.

They say you don’t know what you don’t know, and just like I had no idea of what the school year would bring within the newly consolidated school, I had no idea what I was about to see or who I was about to meet.

I arrived in time to watch our first-team offense scrimmage against our first-team defense.

The offense was moving like greased lightning. Ten yards on a pass. Fifteen yards on a sweep.

Suddenly, on a routine running play, one linebacker blasted a running back so hard it made a sound like cannon fire, echoing through that stadium valley for what seemed like an hour.

Amid the oohs and ahs, I scrambled for an answer: “Who was that?”
Lance Reed, someone said.

Minutes later, a defensive player came out of the scrimmage and stood by me on the sideline.

Someone slapped the player’s shoulder pads, and said, “Good hit, Lance Reed.”

Without numbers on the practice jerseys, and not knowing more than 80 percent of the players, I had no idea I was standing next to the guy who’d made the massive hit.

“That was you who made that hit?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he quietly and succinctly replied, as two intense, gleaming eyes peered at me from behind a gold helmet with a gray facemask.

“G-g-g-good job,” I stammered with the utmost sincerity and respect, hoping somehow he sensed that.

In that moment, I didn’t know the offense would never again work quite as well as it did before Lance Reed delivered that sonic-boom hit, and I also didn’t know he would help steer the Bulldogs to a 7-3 record and a playoff appearance that season as the leader of a hard-nosed defense.

I didn’t know he’d sign a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech University one season later, and that as a fellow Tech student, I’d see him wreak the same havoc as a Tech Bulldog that he did as a Natchez Bulldog.

Nor did I know I’d have the pleasure of reading years later that he’d returned home to head up the same Natchez football program for which he starred, and then win more consistently than any NHS football coach before him.

Last month when I visited Natchez, I didn’t know I’d get to enjoy a warm, extended visit with him in the NHS gym.

I also didn’t know I’d wake up the next morning to read about an arrest-producing brawl in that gym less than 30 minutes after I left.

Then again, I also never knew I’d see the day when my hometown’s school system would make headlines as the nation’s seventh-worst rated one.

Finally, though I clearly sensed it coming, I didn’t know how grieved I’d be when I heard Coach Reed had resigned.

Here’s why.

Twenty-five years ago, Lance Reed was among 74 boys who strapped on blue and gold football uniforms when everyone in Natchez didn’t know what they didn’t know, and when tension around town was thick enough to chew.

More importantly, he was one of the leaders of those 74 boys who won their first two games in thrilling fashion, giving our campus and community something to believe in amid the chaos.

Even more importantly, he returned home years later to successfully right a sinking ship and to serve his alma mater, much like the great Paul “Bear” Bryant did at Alabama.

Most important of all, he earned a deep, abiding level of respect and admiration from many, including me. And although it sadly won’t materialize in Natchez, his best is yet to come, and it will be magnificent.

Those are two things I do know.

 

Ben Goss is a Natchez native and associate professor and director of the sport business program at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.