Jim Monaco was awakened at 4:30 a.m. Friday with the worst news a coach can hear.
Tucson Police called Monaco to inform him that one of his players, sophomore Jordan Waddell, was killed in a car wreck Thursday night. UA wide receiver Donovan Moore, Waddell's former Pima teammate, was injured in the accident. Moore remains hospitalized with serious injuries.
Monaco said Waddell was "a really good kid," hard worker and good teammate. The Florida-born Waddell spent a year at Eastern Arizona College before transferring to Pima.
"Our team is having a really hard time handling it — it’s just been a really rough day,” Monaco said. “We didn’t say anything to anybody until we had a team meeting at 11 a.m. and I was given the OK by Tucson Police to go ahead and notify the kids, because god forbid I didn’t want the parents to hear anything until they were notified by the right people.”
Monaco said communicating with Waddell's mother, who lived in Florida, was the hardest part.
“I can’t even imagine what they’re going through, having to hear that ‘you’ve lost a child,'" he said. "When they send their child off to me, I take it very seriously, because while they’re big, fast and strong, they’re still someone’s child. It’s very difficult as a parent and a grandparent to go through something like this.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pound Waddell dealt with injuries this season, but was morphing into a productive player, Monaco said.
"We were excited to see what the second half of the season would bring to him and then this happened.”
Injured or not, starting or on the sidelines, Waddell was a person who didn't back down when things stood in his way, said Colorado Mesa wide receiver Trevan Stewart-Ruiz, a former Pima teammate who spoke on the behalf of Waddell's friends.
"It didn’t matter how big somebody was, Jordan firmly believed that he could put them on their back,” Stewart-Ruiz said.
It wasn't the football field where Waddell created the most memories, but rather the community and everyone who encountered him.
“For how big and scary he looks, he was goofy and was one of the coolest people we’ve met,” Stewart-Ruiz said. “He had an impact on everybody who knew him and the one thing we will always say is long live J-Wad… That’s something we’ll always carry and we’re not going to let his memory go to waste. He’ll be a part of our friendship forever.”
The football team will honor Waddell this season with a decal of a football with the initials J.W. and will place them on the back of Pima's helmets. In addition, the Aztecs will perform a moment of silence before their next home game on Oct. 14 against Snow College at Kino North Stadium. Pima is idle this week.
“In all honesty, we’re just trying to make sure our team can heal through this," Monaco said. "It’s really hard to preach family and brothers when you lose one and the guys are really struggling right now.”