They never saw it coming.
“Everybody who knew him is shocked,” says Jennah Walker, the older sister of former Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, who took his own life the night of Sept. 21 in Austin, Texas. He was 32.
“The night before, he was out having fun with friends,” she says. “He talked to friends on Friday, even Saturday morning. He gave our oldest son a pep talk before his football game. He had made plans with friends. He was picking up his girlfriend at the airport. He had made plans for the next week. He seemed completely normal.
“And then, for some reason, something just clicked.”
Their parents, Jaylon and Jane, live just around the corner from Walker and her family in Stephenville, Texas — a town of 21,000 located two-and-a-half hours north of Austin. When they showed up at Walker’s door “I knew something was wrong,” she says. “When they told me, I was like ‘What? Is this some mean, weird joke?’ ”
Nearly two weeks later, the family has started to make some sense of it.
Jevan battled depression.
“He hid it well,” Walker says. “But he was up and down.”
The family believes Jevan was suffering from CTE, a brain disorder caused by repeated blows to the head. Symptoms include depression, memory loss, impulsive behavior and suicidal tendencies.
“Jevan had a lot of memory loss,” Walker says. “He didn’t remember playing in some games. He didn’t remember a lot of his childhood.
“He had concussions from peewee ball all the way on up. It changed how he was able to cope with things. There is no way he planned on doing that to himself. It was an impulsive thing.”
Jevan’s brain was donated to research — he had made that wish known.
He had just moved from Newport Beach, California to Austin in April. He was working in commercial real estate.
Jevan’s death has shattered those in Stephenville, in Austin, and in Oxford, where he led Ole Miss to consecutive Cotton Bowl victories following the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons. The Rebels won 18 games with him at quarterback.
Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter and Kyle Campbell, associate athletic director for communications, attended the funeral Sunday in Stephenville.
“Jevan was and always will be an Ole Miss Rebel,” Carter says. “You could really feel that in the service on Sunday. Seeing some of the pictures and hearing the stories really brought back some great memories of Jevan’s time in Oxford.”
Former sports information director Langston Rogers recalls Snead’s “class and accountability.”
Says Rogers: “When Jevan transferred from Texas to Ole Miss, their sports information director, Bill Little, called me. He said, ‘You’re not just getting a really good quarterback. You’re getting a quality person, a guy you’re going to enjoy working with.’
“You never had to worry about Jevan handling the tough questions after a game. Even after the toughest losses, Jevan was always the same person.”
Former teammate Shay Hodge, who connected with Jevan on an 86-yard touchdown pass in the final six minutes to beat eventual national champion Florida, 31-30, at The Swamp in 2008, says he “just stared at the wall” when he heard Jevan had died.
“It was a God thing that Jevan came to Ole Miss when he did,” says Hodge, head football coach at Hillcrest Christian School in Jackson. “He sorta corralled us together and led us. He had that ‘it’ factor. Everybody respected him.”
Cordera Eason, who played running back with Jevan, learned of his death via text from another former teammate.
“I’ll never forget that it started out, ‘Our fellow brother.’ And that’s what he was, a brother to us,” says Eason, who helps run the Elite Technique sports training program in Meridian. “I get chills even now thinking about that text. It brought me to tears.
“Jevan was my guy. We built such a great relationship, shared a lot of moments. We don’t go to two Cotton Bowls without him. We had a lot of good players, but Jevan was the glue.
“All he ever wanted to do was make a difference. He wanted to plant a seed at Ole Miss, and he did that. He will forever have a place there. He’ll always hover over Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.”
Walker has done her own remembering in recent days.
“We were five years apart, so I was way too cool to hang out with him,” Walker says, managing a quiet laugh. “He always wanted to tag along with me and my friends, and when we wouldn’t let him he would play the worst tricks on us.
“Jevan was a stinker growing up.”
She remembers that he couldn’t sing a lick. But that didn’t keep him from belting out Garth Brooks’ song “Rodeo” — “just so he could say the line that had ‘damn’ in it,” Walker laughs again.
She remembers Jevan attending a music festival and getting his truck stuck the day of her wedding. A tow truck pulled him out just in time for him to make the ceremony.
She remembers he loved Christmas and hated losing.
She remembers he couldn’t walk past a dog without getting on his knees and petting it.
And she remembers her brother’s humility and grace. “He didn’t talk a lot about what he could do,” she says. “He was more about ‘I’ll show you.’ ”
Walker and her husband, Cody, have four children, kindergarten through 7th grade. Their names: Ace, Hayden, Jet and Cannon Joe.
“Cannon Joe is Jevan made over. In other words, he’s a handful,” she says. “I would tell Jevan, ‘I don’t know what deed I did to have your kid, but somehow God gave him to me.’ Jevan would just go, ‘Well …’ ”
Jevan, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound four-star recruit out of Stephenville High School, committed to Texas in November 2005.
After playing one season as fellow freshman Colt McCoy’s backup, Jevan decided to transfer. It came down to Ole Miss and TCU, located in Forth Worth, just 80 miles from Stephenville.
He chose Ole Miss — 650 miles away. He would leave Oxford with a degree in marketing and a whole lot of love from win-starved fans. Jevan was the first quarterback to take Ole Miss to a bowl game in the post-Eli Manning era.
“He loved Ole Miss as soon as he got there on his visit,” Walker recalls. “He said it reminded him of Stephenville, with the small-town atmosphere and how everybody speaks and talks.
“You know, there were only 26 people in my (high school) graduating class. But the people who have been here the past week, doing whatever they could to help me and my family — a lot of those were among the 26 people I graduated with. There is a lot to be said for small towns.”
She recalls his two years at Ole Miss as “wonderful” and “stressful.”
“When somebody you love is playing a key position, you want so badly for them to succeed. But it was pretty amazing to see the people cheer him on like they did,” she says.
Walker finally lets out a big laugh when I tell her something I remember about Jevan: “He had the healthiest looking hair. Shiny. Bouncy. It always looked like he had just washed it.”
“He probably had,” she says. “Gosh, you should’ve told him. He would’ve loved hearing that. He couldn’t stand to sweat. He’d shower three times a day. He was like that even as a little boy.”
Jevan’s family is on a mission.
“We have to make something good come out of this,” Walker says.
They are asking people who would like to honor Jevan’s memory to donate to their go.fund.me account or to an account at a Stephenville bank. (Details are at the bottom of this article.)
“We want to buy the newest and best football helmets for the Stephenville Junior High program,” Walker says. “We found out our son’s helmet was nine years old. There has been so much progress made, we want our boys to be as safe as possible.
“We also want to donate to CTE research. Jevan loved playing golf. We are thinking of having a tournament in or around Oxford (beginning in 2020) sometime around his birthday (Sept. 2).
“We want to go back for a game and visit friends. Our oldest two went to a couple of games when Jevan played, but our youngest two have never experienced The Grove or any of that.
“Until a couple of weeks ago, my kids just knew him as Uncle Jevan. I let them stay home from school last week, and they watched a lot of his games on YouTube. They’ve learned a whole new side of Uncle Jevan.”
One of those videos is titled “Three straight dimes for TD.” It shows Jevan against LSU in 2008 throwing on consecutive plays a 20-yard strike to a covered Dexter McCluster running down the left sideline, a 33-yarder dropped perfectly into the arms of Markeith Summers, and then a 26-yard fade to Mike Wallace for a touchdown.
“Three perfect throws in a row,” gushes CBS analyst Gary Danielson.
Ole Miss won, 31-13, in Baton Rouge. That was part of an eight-game stretch when the Rebels went 6-2 to close the season. Jevan completed 123 of 213 passes for 1,748 yards with 17 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. And those numbers were compiled while running a pro offense, not the wide-open, throw-it-all-over-the-field offenses of today.
Many thought Jevan was a lock to make an NFL roster, even when he decided to turn pro after his junior season. He went undrafted and was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp.
“No way in hell were there starters and backups for every NFL team that were better than Jevan,” Eason says. “I’ll never believe that. If he could’ve just got with the right team … ”
Walker says Jevan always wrestled with not making an NFL roster.
“When he was in fifth grade, they had to write a paper about what they wanted to be when they grew up,” she says. “Jevan wrote that he wanted to play college football and then play in the NFL.
“I think it’s important to let these football players know that they are so much more than the game. Football is what you do, it’s not who you are. You’re a child of God. A son. A brother. A father.
“When you work all your life toward a goal and it doesn’t work out, it’s sometimes hard to know who you are. Jevan struggled with that after football. He struggled figuring out who he was.”
The funeral service for Jevan Bryce Snead was held at Erath County Cowboy Church.
Songs that were played included “When I Get Where I’m Going,” by Brad Paisley; “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin; “Broken Halos” by Chris Stapleton; “Dancing In the Sky” by Dani and Lizzy; and “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” by Blake Shelton.
“He loved traditions,” Walker says. “We kept that in mind and wanted to include all three of his schools.”
The Longhorns’ fight song, “The Eyes of Texas” was played.
The service ended with a recording of the Ole Miss band performing “From Dixie with Love.”
“Jevan loved the game-day atmosphere at Ole Miss — everything about it,” Walker says. “We felt like that was something he would’ve wanted played.”
And as Jevan’s body was carried from the church to the cemetery, fans of Stephenville High School lined the road and shook their cans — a Yellow Jacket tradition of shaking everything from coffee cans to propane tanks filled with ball bearings.
Walker breaks into tears remembering the sound, the effort the fans put into it, the emptiness that showed on their faces.
Says Walker: “They sure know how to send off one of their own.”
Donations can be made to the Jevan Snead Memorial Fund at Citizens National Bank in Stephenville located at 2270 W. Washington Street or www.gofundme.com/f/jevansneadmemorial