Josh Baggett spoke to an Albuquerque TV reporter after signing to play at UNM in February 2012.
Garry Herron / Observer

Melissa Marks, a former trainer for the Rio Rancho High School football team, was one of the first to post on Facebook the day Joshua Baggett died.

“I can’t even start to believe this young man is gone. He was the first football player from Rio Rancho I trained before he went to college; while he played for UNM we continued to be his family, as he moved and became a cop in Atlanta, to talking to him and about getting in shape for their wedding,” she posted.

Word spread quickly, as it often does on social media.

“He was one of a kind,” added former Cleveland High volleyball player and current college coach Jordan Bruere. “He made everyone around him smile. I am so grateful to have known him — he definitely had an impact on my life and everyone that knows him.”

The former RRHS offensive lineman, a 2012 RRHS graduate, passed away Feb. 19 following a traffic accident in Tennessee.

Baggett, 27, was on I-85, heading to his job as a Clayton County Police officer on Feb. 4, according to the Newnan (Ga.)Times-Herald, when he topped a hill and encountered traffic stopped from an earlier accident.

He was unable to stop and plowed into the back of a utility truck, was severely injured, with broken vertebrae in his neck and an exposed spinal cord, and underwent four surgeries in five days, according to the Times-Herald. He had been in critical condition in the intensive-care unit at the Grady Hospital until his passing.

He and his fiancée since May 2020, Leila Simpson, had their wedding set for March 28. She is an Atlanta firefighter, and had been chatting with Baggett on his Bluetooth at the time of his mishap.

Baggett (6-2, 308) played from 2009-11 for RRHS, where he gave up only seven sacks in three years as a starter and was a three-time All-District selection and a two-time All-State offensive lineman

In 2012, after signing to play for the University of New Mexico, he saw time at center in the fourth-quarter in the season opener against Southern, then was a solid contributor on the offensive scout team for the balance of the season. He was a redshirt in 2013 and then transferred to play at the University of South Alabama.

“Our hearts are definitely broken,” Marks told the Observer. “Josh was a part of our family; he became our football son.

“We got him ready for college football at UNM, working on his strength and conditioning,” Marks recalled. “When he was playing for UNM, I knew his college strength and conditioning coach well, so he called and said Josh was not pushing himself, so I called Josh and said, ‘You have two choices: One, push yourself, or, two, I can come to practice.’ His response was, “I pick choice one.’ … Because of him, this Aggie fan cheered for a moment for the Lobos.”

“Josh was the definition of the Rams’ creed: leadership, accountability, trust, commitment and respect,” former Rams football coach David Howes said. “He went on to follow his father’s (Scott Baggett, a former Marine) footsteps and became a police officer … He was well-liked and respected by his teammates and our coaching staff.”

“He was a fantastic young man with a heart like very few others,” remembered Rams assistant coach Kelley Hill. “During the offseason he was always calling me to take him rabbit hunting or go out target shooting. He and my son were very close and stayed in touch because they both went into law enforcement. (Josh was) one of the biggest and best to ever come though our program. I’ll miss him terribly.”

“It’s a real tragedy,” said former Rams (and later Storm) assistant football coach Lloyd Spotted Wolf,  now teaching and coaching at Bridgeland High in Cypress, Texas. “Josh was my center my first year at Rio Rancho, and he really embodied what I look for in a center: smart enough to make all the calls, charismatic enough to take control of the unit and he was one tough football player.

“He came from a great family. I loved that guy,” Spotted Wolf added. “Again, a real tragedy.”

In addition to his fiancée, he is survived by his parents, Scott and Lisa Baggett; his sister, Jessica McBride; and a brother, Jacob, who also played football for the Rams.