MACON — Teddy Young wears the memory around his neck on a small silver chain.
At the bottom, held on by a slim black clip, Dantrell Rapheal Franklin is immortalized in a small black-and-white picture. Franklin stands on the sidelines in his No. 90 jersey, his football helmet halfway off.
The chain, which Young never takes off, is how the Noxubee County football coach keeps his late cousin close.
Franklin — more like a little brother to Young — was shot and killed in November 2017, and ever since, Young has been coaching in his memory. This fall, he has the Tigers two wins away from another state title, and it’s all for Franklin.
“Now, everything I do, I dedicate to him,” Young said. “He’s just my guardian angel.”
A ‘country kid’
The only year Young and Franklin shared the football field for Noxubee County’s high school team, the Tigers went 14-0 and won their first-ever state championship.
It was 2008, when Franklin was a freshman defensive lineman and Young was a senior wide receiver. And despite their differences in age and position, the two were always close.
Growing up in Shuqualak with Franklin, the son of Roy and Valerie Franklin, Young said his cousin was a “country kid” who loved hunting, fishing and riding horses and four-wheelers. The baby of the family, Franklin — who went by “Ralph” — was always smiling and upbeat.
“If you’re having a bad day and you go around him, he’s going to find a way to make you laugh and make you smile,” Young recalled.
When Young became an assistant under Tyrone Shorter at Noxubee County, his cousin was there to support him. Franklin texted Young to wish him good luck before each game and was in attendance Friday nights whenever he didn’t work.
On Nov. 9, 2017, with Franklin just home for the holidays, the two planned to hang out at another cousin’s birthday celebration in Shuqualak. Young was getting ready to leave when one of his other aunts pulled her car up to the house and honked the horn. He ran outside.
Franklin, she told him, had been shot in the head.
Young and his family rushed to the scene, where Franklin lay injured on Church Street. They could tell it didn’t look good.
According to the Meridian TV station WTOK, Franklin was shot by his best friend, Christopher Scott, who was cleaning his gun. Scott was later arrested and charged with manslaughter.
Franklin was transported to Noxubee General Hospital in Macon and pronounced dead that night. He was 24.
“Everybody loved him,” Young said. “It was tough for our family at that time.”
Coaching and grieving
Franklin’s death fell on a Thursday night. The next evening, Noxubee County faced a Class 4A second-round playoff game on the road at Yazoo City.
Early Friday, Shorter and Young talked for a long time. If Young didn’t want to coach, Shorter said, he didn’t have to.
Young, in his first season calling plays for the Tigers, had already made up his mind. He’d be there.
He got in his car and drove west, affording himself more than two hours to think. When he arrived at the stadium, the team embraced him.
And when it came down to it, Young found it surprisingly easy to focus on the game. Noxubee County failed to score on its first two possessions, but the Tigers soon pulled away.
At halftime, with his team leading 26-0, everything started to hit Young. Again, after the final horn capped a 39-0 win, he felt the impact.
“It was very tough at that time trying to get my mind prepared to coach a game and also grieve at the same time,” Young said.
Still, he and the Tigers found success. In the next round, they blew out Corinth. Then they held off Louisville. On Dec. 2, 23 days after Franklin’s death, Noxubee County beat East Central 41-35 in the state championship game.
Before the Tigers take the field every Friday, Young makes sure to pay Franklin a visit.
Whether it’s after practice on Thursday, later Thursday night or sometime Friday morning, Young heads down to New Jerusalem Church in Shuqualak — the church he attends every Sunday — and sits down next to his cousin’s headstone.
Young updates his cousin, a big fan of high school football, on Noxubee County’s season — who the Tigers play next; how he expects the game to go. Young talks about the problems in his life. Then he sits in silence with Franklin for a few minutes before getting up to go.
“It just helps me be close to him,” Young said. “That was my best friend — we grew up, we did everything together.”
For Young, that becomes more important around this time of year. Franklin’s birthday was Oct. 6; he died in November. It’s been more than three years now, but the pain is still there.
“As time goes by, it’s getting a little easier, but it’s still hard on me,” Young said. “Some days, some nights, I still think about him a lot and shed tears. It’ll get better with time, but right now, it still has its days.”
A month after Franklin died, Young, his brother and Franklin’s brother all bought their chains with Franklin’s picture hanging on the end.
Since then, after every Noxubee County touchdown, Young has developed a tradition. Upon each score, he raises Franklin’s photograph to his lips and kisses it — a way to hold his cousin close.
“I just keep him with me,” Young said.