High-school football is one of the deadliest sports in America. Here’s why:
• Over the last two decades, a staggering 77 American high school players have died as a direct result of playing football.
• A much larger number died from indirect causes, such as football exacerbating a preexisting medical condition.
• Seven died in 2015, five in 2014, and eight in 2013.
• In each of the past three years, more high-school football players died as a direct result of playing the game than NFL players did combined throughout league history.
• High-school football fatalities reached a peak of 26 in the year 1968 alone.
Here are 15 tragic cases of young lives being cut short on the high-school gridiron.
1. BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA
Pint-sized Charles Youvella was captain of a scrappy little Arizona football team that racked up a 9-1 record in 2013 despite having only 17 members. But in the playoffs his team was getting pounded—Charles scored their only touchdown in a lopsided 60-6 loss. But he was hit so hard in the fourth quarter, it took the life right out of him.
—Charles’s coach, Steve Saban
2. TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY
Kenney Bui was a 4.0 student at suburban Seattle high school. Barely recovered from a previous head injury, he was hit so hard during a game this past October that he was hospitalized. Emergency brain surgery failed to save him, as he died three days later.
—Kenny’s father, Ngon Bui
3. CRUSHED LIVER
On a balmy Florida night in August 2008, 15-year-old wide receiver Taylor Haugen was hit in his abdominal area by two defensive players at once. He stood up, holding his side in pain, and walked to the sideline, where he collapsed. Damage to his liver was so severe, doctors said they’d never seen anything like it outside of a car crash.
—Brian Haugen, Taylor’s father
4. LACERATED SPLEEN
After complaining of feeling “woozy” after a brutal hit, senior-year New Jersey quarterback Evan Murray gave a thumbs-up to his team as an ambulance carted him off the field during a game in September. He died later in the hospital of a lacerated spleen.
—Evan’s friend Sevian Frangipane
In October, sixteen-year-old Cam’Ron Matthews of the Alto High School Yellowjackets in Texas told his teammates in a huddle that he felt dizzy. He walked to the sidelines, where he collapsed from a fatal seizure.
—School Superintendent Kerry Birdwell
7. WATER INTOXICATION
Not only is this the oddest fatality of the bunch, it’s the only case on the list that didn’t happen as a result of an actual football game. During practice amid red-hot swampy Georgia weather in 2014, Zyrees Oliver drank two gallons of water and two gallons of Gatorade to stay cool. The problem is that the human body can take only so much water—if you chug down too much of it, your brain cells swell up to the point where it shuts off forever. Twelve hours after guzzling the equivalent of 64 cups of water, Oliver lapsed into a coma and died.
—Zyrees’s cousin, Bryan Stewart
8. FATAL BRAIN SWELLING
In Kansas in 2015 while playing a game against the wonderfully named Otis-Bison High School, 17-year-old Luke Schemm suffered a hard tackle while scoring a touchdown, after which he ran to the sidelines and collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital and kept on life support until family and friends could pay their last respects.
—David Schemm, Luke’s father
9. SECOND IMPACT SYNDROME
A resident of the wild ‘n’ woolly state of West Virginia, Dylan Jeffries had spent two weeks on the sidelines recovering from a concussion in September 2013. Perhaps he returned to the game too soon, for after enduring a hit that sent his helmet smacking backward against the ground, he lost consciousness. He was taken to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma. Nine days later he died of what is known as “second impact syndrome”—the devastating effects a new concussion can have when a prior concussion hasn’t fully healed.
—Richard Jeffries, Dylan’s father
10. BROKEN NECK
During a Friday night game near Atlanta in 2013, Deantre “Tre Tre” Turman fatally fractured his third vertebra during a routine tackle.
—Johnny T. White, Deantre’s coach
11. HELMET-TO-HELMET COLLISION
In September 2013, sixteen-year-old Damon Janes of Brocton, NY died of head injuries after a helmet-to-helmet collision. Some have alleged he was wearing a substandard helmet.
—Penny Gilbert, Damon’s mother
12. BRAIN HEMORRHAGE
During a 2008 night game in New Jersey, 16-year-old Ryne Dougherty suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage, allegedly becoming the third student athlete in North Jersey to die playing football that year.
—Coach Ed Lebida
13. ACUTE CARDIAC EVENT
During a 2011 game, Latrell Dunbar of Mississippi’s D’Iberville High School collapsed of what a coroner determined was “an acute cardiac event.”
—Coach Buddy Singleton
14. PEDIATRIC HEART DISEASE
Moments after throwing a touchdown pass in a 2010 game, Texas quarterback Reggie Garrett collapsed on the sidelines and died shortly afterward of a rare pediatric heart disease known as Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy.
—Offensive Coordinator Toby Foreman
15. ENLARGED HEART
A six-foot-three-inch, 335-pound giant named Ronald Rouse fell to Earth during a 2012 homecoming game in South Carolina. An autopsy determined that he’d died from sudden arrhythmia caused by his enlarged heart.
—Coach Cornel Thompson