)
Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. HomeTeam

Northeast High football coach after Jacquez Welch’s death: ‘This broke me’

Jeremy Frioud grapples with being strong for his players while mourning the senior captain he loved.
Northeast coach Jeremy Frioud walks the field wearing a tribute Jacquez Welch shirt against Dixie Hollins on Sept. 27.
Northeast coach Jeremy Frioud walks the field wearing a tribute Jacquez Welch shirt against Dixie Hollins on Sept. 27. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 11, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Northeast High football coach Jeremy Frioud knew immediately something bad had happened to his star player.

After a routine play on defense in a Sept. 20 game, Jacquez Welch never got up. He seized. His eyes remained closed. He moaned incessantly.

Frioud held Welch down so he wouldn’t harm himself, screaming, ‘Wake up! Wake up!’

“This was more than a kid being knocked out,” Frioud said.

After paramedics took Welch to Bayfront Health, Frioud returned to the sideline, stunned. The first quarter had not yet elapsed and the coach wanted to forfeit.

But Viking players wanted to carry on to honor Welch.

The game was a blur.

“This can’t be happening again,” Frioud kept telling himself. Three days earlier, former Vikings player Marquis Scott was fatally shot while riding his bike.

Related: RELATED: Northeast High football player Jacquez Welch removed from life support

Once the game ended, Frioud was told he needed to get to Bayfront quickly.

“Jacquez might not make it,” Frioud told one of his assistants. The sobs started.

Welch had severe bleeding on the brain. It would take a miracle for him to come out of this.

When Frioud visited Welch in the intensive care unit, he was no longer breathing on his own.

“It was just a lifeless body,” Frioud said. “It was extremely rough for myself and the coaches to see.”

Frioud took his players, in groups of three, to say their goodbyes to Welch. By the third trip, one of the nurses was in tears.

Before taking the final group, Frioud did not know if he had the strength to go back again. Palm Harbor University defensive coordinator Matt LePain, formerly an assistant at Northeast, offered encouragement.

“Jeremy, you’re the only one that can do this,” LePain recalled. “You’re the toughest guy I know.”

Frioud got through that night at the hospital, then the tough guy crumbled.

Related: RELATED: Rare condition caused Northeast High football player’s death

• • •

Coach Jeremy Frioud huddles up with his team before the start of a Sept. 27 game against Dixie Hollins, the first Northeast played without Jacquez Welch.
Coach Jeremy Frioud huddles up with his team before the start of a Sept. 27 game against Dixie Hollins, the first Northeast played without Jacquez Welch. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2019) ]

Once home, he curled in the lap of “his rock,” wife Brooke Bennett, a former Olympian and current swim coach at Northeast. That’s when “the demons” came out for Frioud.

“I let out noises and cried like I never knew it was possible to do. I had so much inside of me that I wasn’t allowed to do in front of those kids.

“I love all those kids, but I really loved Jacquez.”

The next day, there were more trips to the hospital, more kids to take back for visits.

And little time to heal.

Frioud sought advice from a friend who was a former Navy Seal. He created a buddy system among the players so they could monitor each other’s emotional well-being. He set up a $5,000 annual scholarship in Welch’s honor that will be funded by Steve and Julie Weintraub of the Gold & Diamond Source.

But of all the suggestions from his Navy Seal friend, Frioud knew the biggest was letting his players see him grieve. They needed to understand it was okay to cry because they were going to follow his lead.

Related: RELATE: 500 people lined hallways to honor Jacquez Welch on journey to organ donation

“My friend kept telling me if I try to suppress this, it’s going to make it 100 times worse on me and the kids,” Frioud said.

On Sept. 23, Frioud called a team meeting. He broke down.

“I’m the one that tells you to always be tough, and I’m crying,” Frioud said. “I’m crying because I’m hurt. The only way to get over this is by crying. Let it out.”

Later that day, Welch’s mother, Marcia Nelson, publicly announced that her son was being removed from life support and his organs were being donated. That again hit home for Northeast. Assistant Dave Angelo’s 13-month-old son had received a liver transplant at 4 months.

That week of practice, nearly every Pinellas County high school reached out with meals, donations and tributes.

“The compassion from everyone was how I got through this for the boys,” Frioud said. “This tragedy has shown me how good people still are. Everyone talks about the organs being donated and the scholarship, those are all amazing things that came from his death. But for me, personally, seeing that all that love still exists in this world was amazing. It didn’t matter what race. It didn’t matter the religion, political or sexual preference. Everyone reached out. There were so many asking to help that I had to turn people away.”

Related: RELATED: Pinellas football community rallies around Northeast High

• • •

Jeremy Frioud, along with players from Dixie Hollins and Northeast gather, on the field before the start of a recent game to pay tribute to Jacquez Welch.
Jeremy Frioud, along with players from Dixie Hollins and Northeast gather, on the field before the start of a recent game to pay tribute to Jacquez Welch. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

After a tough loss to Dixie Hollins on Sept. 27, Frioud took his players bowling to get their minds off of everything. Their smiles returned.

The tears eventually stopped, too. Frioud cried for 10 days straight, on the drive to and from work, and at night.

The supplement — less than $3,000 after taxes — Frioud makes as a varsity head football coach takes care of his commute from Clearwater each season — and that’s about it. Since taking over the Vikings in 2014, Frioud has gone through multiple tragedies with players.

Five years ago, defensive lineman Leshawn Williams, then 17, sustained a knee injury that required his leg to eventually be amputated. In August of last year, Ruben Marcano, a 14-year-old freshman on the junior varsity team, died in an accident while at home.

“I’ve had two die in a week, three in a year,” Frioud said. “I’m not a woe-is-me guy. And there’s billions of people that’s got it worse. I do this job for free. But this is what a football coach does. He leads high school boys to what they’ve got to get through.

“Sometimes you get thrown a curveball like this and it makes it impossible to do your job and to coach football. Now all you’re trying to do is get these kids to class, make sure their grades don’t fall off. The hard part is not tucking your tail and running when things get awful. Not blown out in games awful. People are dead awful. Tragic stuff that people have no idea about.”

Related: RELATED: A final goodbye to Northeast High football captain Jacquez Welch

Whenever Frioud thought it was too tough, too painful, he kept thinking about his father. As a child, Frioud’s parents were involved in a horrific car accident. His mother broke her neck. His father cracked a rib and shattered his ankle. The next day his father, wearing a walking boot, held his rib with one hand while digging palm trees with a shovel in the other.

“There’s no excuse,” Frioud said. “There’s no reason to not go on. You’ve got to get it done. There’s no way I could run away.”

Still, the final image of Welch collapsed on the field does not go away. As Frioud held his star player that night, he took his mouthpiece. Frioud still carries it in his pocket. At times, he squeezes it, as if to hold on to Welch’s memory.

“This broke me,” Frioud said. “A chunk of my heart is gone. People say I’m bad luck (because of the multiple tragedies). ... If anything, I had the best luck in the world. Because I have two perfect kids, and I was the one that got to coach Jacquez. This was going to happen no matter what. And I got to be his coach.”

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge