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Health Problems Had Delayed Banning Player's Season

High school football: Diaz had recent history of high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, his mother says.


A high school football player who collapsed at practice and died after arriving at the hospital in cardiac arrest had a recent history of high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, his mother said Tuesday.

Jonathan Diaz, a senior and two-year starter at offensive tackle for Wilmington Banning High, died Monday after he fell to the ground during a walk-through following a light warmup on a cool, overcast afternoon. An official cause of death has not been determined.

Jonathan's parents, Rebecca and Joe Diaz, were among 200 mourners who attended a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening near the spot where Jonathan collapsed. Afterward, Rebecca Diaz said she did not believe that playing football caused her son's death.

Jonathan, 17, was under a doctor's care and had been cleared to play football after missing the Pilots' first four games.

"The way it happened, I think it would have happened anywhere he was because they were just going to start warming up. They weren't really in the middle of an exercise or anything," Diaz said.

Diaz said Jonathan failed a preseason physical when the school nurse noted signs of high blood pressure. Jonathan was placed under a cardiologist's care, and was instructed to lose weight, Diaz said.

Jonathan, who was listed at 6-feet-3, 280 pounds in last year's City Section championship game program, weighed more than 300 pounds before the start of this season.

"He had high blood pressure and a little bit of abnormal beating in his heart," Diaz said. "But with treatment and losing weight he was OK."

Diaz said Jonathan lost nearly 20 pounds and was eventually cleared to play by his doctor, whom Diaz would not identify.

"They had him under control," she said. "His blood pressure went back to normal and he was fine."

The candlelight vigil included prayers, songs and memories of Jonathan and capped a somber day at Banning.

"Everyone is just trying to get through this," Banning Coach Ed Lalau said. "You wake up in the morning hoping it was a bad nightmare. The kids and the coaches are struggling."

Crisis counselors from the school and the Los Angeles Unified School District were on campus to meet with students, faculty and school personnel. Football players were kept out of class and met with counselors, a priest and minister throughout the day.

"They are doing as well as can be expected," said Kris Evans, a crisis counselor based at Banning.

Players scrawled messages in Jonathan's memory on lockers and walls in the Pilots' locker room before taking the field for afternoon practice. Many of the players taped to their lockers an essay written by Jonathan for an English class on Nov. 2. The essay, titled "Football," described Jonathan's love for the game and for his teammates and coaches.

"It's amazing how so many people can come together for one reason, even if they do not like each other, and still manage to go out there and lay out for each other," Jonathan wrote. "This is how we become an army and this is where we become a family. It does not matter if the team is black, white, blue or green, when people are forced to run, everybody comes together. We come together because we know what they are going through too, we feel their pain."

Banning will play Los Angeles Dorsey in a first-round playoff game Thursday. Barbara Fiege, director of athletics for the City Section, said the district would have accommodated a request to delay the game, but Banning said it wanted to play.

Banning players will wear a patch with 63, Diaz's number, stitched to their jerseys.

"I'll remember that smile he always carried with him," lineman Fred Matua said. "I never saw him sad. He always had an uplifting spirit." A rosary service will be held Friday at Stricklin-Snively Mortuary in Long Beach. Burial services will be held Saturday at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach.

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