JONESBORO -- Logan Bonner was one of the first to receive the news.
Bonner, Arkansas State University's junior quarterback, had been texting his Coach Blake Anderson throughout Monday night as Anderson's wife, Wendy, lay in hospice care clinging to life.
Just before midnight, Wendy Leann Anderson died after a fight with breast cancer that began in April 2017. Wendy had celebrated her 49th birthday Thursday.
Bonner fought back tears Tuesday while recalling Monday night and his memories of Wendy. At one point late Monday, the texts from Blake Anderson stopped.
"I kind of got a little worried," Bonner said. "One a.m., he told me what happened. It was tough. I didn't know what to do."
Bonner is as close with Anderson's family as anyone on ASU's team. This hit home even harder for a player who referred to Blake as a "second father figure," and Wendy as a "second mom."
"I was at their house all the time," Bonner said. "She was like a second mom to the quarterbacks. She'd never had a bad day. She was an awesome person."
Junior linebacker Tajhea Chambers is also tight with the Andersons, who have known him since Blake first began recruiting him while he was still coaching at North Carolina.
"[Blake] and Miss Wendy, they're the best people you can be around," Chambers said. "Miss Wendy, I've been knowing her for six-plus years. She's never had a frown on her face. She's always been happy, smiling."
The Red Wolves had a team meeting prior to practice Tuesday. Most of ASU's players already had learned of Wendy's death by then. The first thing the team did was pray for its head coach and his family.
Then, first-year defensive coordinator David Duggan, who was named the team's interim head coach Monday, tried to pick up his team.
"It hurts. I don't know any way to describe it," said Duggan, who was in contact with Anderson "several times" Tuesday. "I feel so bad. My heart goes out to Blake and his family and Wendy. I just pray that he and his family, that they're gonna be OK. It was a very difficult day, very emotional day."
Duggan said he doesn't know when Anderson will return to coach the team. For the time being, Duggan is charged with leading a team stricken by grief.
But no one believes in him more than Anderson. There's a reason he appointed Duggan as the team's assistant head coach on Aug. 1 prior to the start of fall camp, stating then: "Dave is more than capable to step in at any point that he needed to."
"We got a job to do for Coach A," Duggan said, "and we're trying to do it to the best of our ability because of him."
The Red Wolves were in full pads Tuesday for the first time since Saturday night's second scrimmage of fall camp at Centennial Bank Stadium, a place just 10 days away from hosting SMU in the season opener. That in itself seems less significant after Tuesday.
A pink ribbon and pink Red Wolves logo were pinned on the suit of Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse as he patrolled the sidelines at practice. ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir also stopped by.
"Wendy was special to many people outside of the football family," Damphousse said. "Our staff is just devastated by this. We're doing the best we can to get through this, and we'll support Blake and his family any way that we can and as much as we can to honor Wendy's legacy."
Damphousse said Anderson texted him around 1 a.m. Tuesday informing him of Wendy's death.
Damphousse had the ASU clock tower lit in pink Monday night in honor of her. On Tuesday night, the clock tower was lit red, which is normally done after the football team wins a game.
Damphousse said he doesn't know when Anderson will be back, either.
"Whenever he's ready, he'll be welcome," Damphousse said. "We will give him every day, every hour that he needs."
For the most part, ASU's practice Tuesday seemed business as usual. The typical heat beat down on ASU's practice field on the south side of Centennial Bank Stadium.
Chambers admitted after practice that many of the older players on the team, who've known Blake and Wendy the longest, were a little down. Bonner was one of them.
Still, the Red Wolves tried to stay loose and locked in, at one point to a fault.
Midway through practice, during a drill focused strictly on the downhill running game where the offense and defense lined up against each other without receivers in and just went at it in the trenches, multiple ASU players started to get chippy.
Senior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon and sophomore offensive lineman Andre Harris Jr. barked at each other after a play before Thurmon smacked Harris in the helmet. Sophomore offensive lineman Jennings Stanley also was involved in a scrum, along with multiple other players. Later, senior linebacker Kirk Louis was sent off to the side after getting too heated.
The chippiness finally reached a head midway through practice when Duggan decided he'd seen enough and called the team to a kneeled huddle.
"That's a learning experience, so we tried to stop and nip it in the butt," Duggan said. "We said, 'All right, it's not helping, it's selfish, and you hit your breaking point. You just cost us that snap.' In tight games, those plays make a difference."
On normal days and at normal practices, Anderson would have been delivering that message. But things are no longer normal at ASU.
This is the Red Wolves' reality as they figure out a way to press forward without their head coach, and without a beloved team figure in Wendy.
"We are a family. That's [Blake's] big motto here," Bonner said. "I think that we just need to do our job and he'll be back, and when he gets back, this team will be rolling. I promise you that."
A memorial service honoring the life of Wendy Anderson is set for Friday at 11 a.m. at Central Baptist Church on Harrisburg Road in Jonesboro.
Additional details regarding the service, which will be streamed live online by Central Baptist Church, will be available at a later time on CentralBaptist.com.
There will be no visitation or viewing period. Anderson will be buried in Hubbard, Texas, with the Anderson family.
Sports on 08/21/2019
Print Headline: Red Wolves mourn 'second mom'