High School Sports

Crash kills former Coast football standout, badly injures two other players

Gulfport defensive back Zae Crain, center, died on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in a wreck in Meridian, according to Gulfport coach John Archie. Crain, who wore No. 17 and played defensive back at Gulfport, had enrolled at East Mississippi Community College in December.
Gulfport defensive back Zae Crain, center, died on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in a wreck in Meridian, according to Gulfport coach John Archie. Crain, who wore No. 17 and played defensive back at Gulfport, had enrolled at East Mississippi Community College in December. Sun Herald file

A former Gulfport High School football standout died in a Wednesday automobile crash that also involved two other football players from the Coast.

Former Admirals defensive back Zae Crain died on impact in the crash, according to the school’s football head coach John Archie. Jeremiah Braziel, who also played football at Gulfport, and former Harrison Central running back Keon Moore were also in the vehicle and injured in the collision.

The crash took place on I-59 in Clarke County near Enterprise when the car, which was headed southbound, ran off the road and overturned near the 132-mile marker, according to WTOK-TV in Meridian.

Braziel was airlifted to University Medical Center in Jackson and was considered in critical condition, according to Archie.

Moore was transported Wednesday to a Meridian hospital for observation, according to Harrison Central football assistant coach Patrick Garvin.

East Mississippi Community College released a statement Wednesday night that said both Braziel and Moore were “badly injured” in the wreck.

“Please keep the Crain family, Jeremiah Braziel, Keon Moore, their classmates and teammates in your thoughts and prayers as we grieve this tremendous loss,” the EMCC statement said.

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All three were football players were members of the EMCC team. Moore and Braziel played for the Lions in 2018 and Crain graduated from Gulfport in December to enroll at EMCC for the spring semester.

Archie joined current and former Gulfport players at Courthouse Pier on Wednesday night for a moment of prayer.

“Nobody ever wants to be in this situation,” Archie said. “I told the guys tonight that we need to lean on each other. This team and this city, we’ll all get together and get through this.”

Archie planned to travel to Jackson on Thursday to check on Braziel. EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens was also en route to Jackson, according to an EMCC spokesman.

“The death of Zae Crain comes as an absolute blow to the EMCC family,” Stephens said in a statement. “His death reminds us how fragile life is and to not let a day go by without holding our loved ones near. Zae was a great student, a great athlete, and everything with a smile on his face. We ask in the coming days that you keep Zae’s family in your thoughs and prayers. We also ask that you lift up Jeremiah Braziel and Keon Moore as they recover from this tragic day.”

Crain’s death is devastating news for the entire Gulfport community and especially painful for Archie, who had a close relationship with his former player.

“It was like a father son relationship,” Archie said. “I’ve known Zae since the sixth grade. I can’t really put it into words.”

At the time of the wreck, Crain and his teammates were returning home to Gulfport to spend the Fourth of July holiday with friends and family.

“I talked to (Crain before he left Scooba). He was proud about how he was doing in school and he wanted me to see that,” Archie said. “He asked, ‘Coach, are you going to be in town for the Fourth?’ I told him, ‘I’ll be in and out, but I’ll make sure I see you.’”

The fact that Crain graduated early so he could start his college career was a point of pride for both Archie and Crain.

“I wanted the best for him and he knew my expectations,” Archie said. “He would always rise to it. His ultimate goal was to get a scholarship, and he was able to graduate early and become an early enrollee (at EMCC).”

Crain was one of the more outgoing members of the Gulfport football team and his senior year proved to be a special one. He had two interceptions in a 42-21 win over rival Harrison Central and nobody celebrated more when when the Admirals clinched their second consecutive Region 4-6A title in a 41-24 win at Ocean Springs. His Gulfport teammates lifted Crain onto their shoulders while they danced in front of the band during the post-game celebration.

“I’ve seen (Crain) grow tremendously,” Archie said. “When I first got here, he wanted to get a scholarship so he can make a name for himself. He got a scholarship and he was starting his college education. That’s the type of worker he was.”

A fundraiser has been set up on Facebook by local restaurateur Rob Stinson to benefit Zae’s mother, Latoya, who works at Stinson’s restaurant in Gulfport, Salute. Stinson wrote on Facebook that Zae also worked at Salute.

“Latoya his mother, who has worked for years at Salute, and lost her brother this week as well, will desperately need help!” Stinson said in his Facebook post. “Please find it in your heart to help! Latoya is family to all of us at Salute.”

Crain finished his senior year at Gulfport with 55 tackles and a pair of interceptions.

As a freshman at EMCC, Braziel had 17 tackles and a pair of sacks.

Moore played a key role on the EMCC offense as a freshman, running 88 times for 531 yards and five touchdowns.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.