(CNN) — A Georgia high school football player who came out of a game with an injury and then lost consciousness on the sideline has died, officials said.
Dylan Thomas, a 16-year-old junior for the Pike County Pirates, came out of a game in the third quarter Friday night with what his coach Brad Webber said was a leg injury. As he spoke with athletic trainers and the team doctor, Dylan became incoherent and then passed out, Webber said.
Steve Fry, a first responder and the mayor of Williamson, Georgia, said Dylan fell off the bench on the sideline. After the teen went down, he woke up, said “I can’t feel my body,” and then passed out again, Fry said.
Dylan, a linebacker, was transported to WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital and then airlifted to Grady Hospital in Atlanta. He was pronounced dead Sunday night from a head injury, Superintendent Michael Duncan said.
The home game between Pike and rival Peach County High School was played in Zebulon, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta. After Dylan was transported to the hospital, players and coaches from the two teams came together and knelt to pray for his recovery, Peach County High School said on Facebook.
Coach Webber said officials were not sure when or how in the game Dylan was injured. He said they are reviewing video of the game to try to pinpoint what happened.
“We’re in a constant process of evaluating the entire thing to see if we can pinpoint one area that maybe this occurred,” he said. “There wasn’t anything that really stuck out.”
The death has sparked an outpouring of support in the county and nearby communities. On Sunday, teammates and community members gathered at Pike Stadium to hold a vigil for Dylan, carrying his No. 32 jersey and bearing the hashtag #DylanStrong.
“He was an incredible young man with work ethic that you can’t believe,” Webber said. “He was the heart and soul of our defense. Just great student, great family, and the sky was gonna be the limit for him.”
Nick Burgess, Dylan’s uncle, posted on Facebook that Dylan was the “golden child” in the family who brought everyone together.
“The one that had the biggest heart. The one that told me personally he was always scared to seriously hurt somebody on the field and never thought it would happen to him,” Burgess wrote.
Dylan was wearing a new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, Webber said. Mayor Fry said that the Thomas family took extra caution to protect him on the football field.
“Dylan’s dad took his own money and bought an NFL-quality helmet for Dylan, because he was somewhat concerned about head injuries,” he said.
Game-related deaths of football players are rare, but they happen every fall. Last year, of the 4 million young people who played organized football, 13 died from the sport, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
Four of the deaths had “direct” causes from on-field trauma or injuries, and nine deaths were due to “indirect” causes such as heatstroke or cardiac arrest. The 2017 death toll was consistent with football-related fatalities dating back to 2000.
Professional and college football administrators have been increasingly focused on limiting head injuries amid concerns in recent years that the country’s most popular sport is damaging young people’s brains. Efforts to limit concussions and other brain injuries have found mixed results, given the inherent violence of a sport based on large, fast men and boys repeatedly crashing into each other.
Fellow Pike County player Jake Patterson told CNN affiliate WSB that he would honor his fallen teammate on the field.
“I want to get out there and play for him because that’s what he’d want for us. He’d want us to play for him instead of just quitting,” he said.
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