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Arizona Recruit Had an Enlarged Heart

Preliminary autopsy says the cause of teen's death during workout was not heat-related.

June 10, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

An Arizona football recruit who died after collapsing during a voluntary workout on campus had an enlarged heart and did not die from heat-related causes, according to preliminary results from an autopsy performed Wednesday.

McCollins Umeh, an 18-year-old defensive end from Houston, arrived in Tucson on Monday night, passed a physical Tuesday morning and participated in a short workout with a small group of Wildcat players that afternoon.

Temperatures were in the mid-90s when the 1 p.m. workout began, and the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Umeh collapsed about 25 minutes later. He was taken to University Medical Center and died about an hour after his collapse.

The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office said the cause of Umeh's death was pending further examination of organ tissue and toxicology results. Dr. Bruce Parks, the medical examiner, determined that Umeh had an enlarged heart and that heat was not a factor in his death, according to Sgt. Eugene Mejia of the University of Arizona Police Dept.

During a news conference in Tucson, Umeh's father, Betrand, said, "This is a great tragedy that has happened to my family. It's a great loss. But I think it's the will of God."

Mike Stoops, preparing for his first season as Arizona's coach, called Umeh's death "devastating."

"Having him here yesterday, seeing his smile, seeing his personality before he went out to work out was refreshing," Stoops said. "To get a call 20 or 30 minutes later and hear this news is tragic.

"His spirit, his smile and his personality is something that will be everlasting in this program."

Umeh, who played at Klein Forest High in Houston, is the second Arizona player in the last decade to die after a conditioning workout. In September 1995, tight end Damon Terrell died nearly a month after collapsing during the first day of fall conditioning.

NCAA rules allow high school graduates and junior college transfers who have signed national letters of intent to participate in voluntary summer conditioning workouts, which cannot be overseen by the coaching staff.

Last April, however, a bylaw was amended to require that an institution's certified strength and conditioning coach is present. The amendment was made to provide "a level of safeguarding," according to NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson.

Kathleen LaRose, senior associate athletic director at Arizona, said two strength coaches and an athletic trainer were present for Tuesday's workout, which was attended by about nine players. LaRose said water was available during the workout.

"We follow all standard procedures of the NCAA and follow all the guidelines," LaRose said.

No workouts were scheduled Wednesday, but Athletic Director Jim Livengood said they were scheduled to resume today.

Asked if Umeh had any pre-existing medical conditions that the university was aware of, LaRose said the matter was under review.

"We will be looking at everything from policies to what happened that day.... No stone will be unturned," LaRose said.

USC Coach Pete Carroll called Umeh's death a tragedy.

"The new rules have been structured so that kids, once they graduate, can come in and start working out so they can get acclimated so this doesn't happen," Carroll said. "It's just a horrible occurrence for the family, the kid, their program and everybody."

Carroll said USC players work out with supervision from strength and conditioning personnel several times a week.

"We're structured with trainers and the whole thing out there," he said.

Jeff Byers, an incoming freshman offensive lineman from Colorado, and Keith Rivers, a linebacker from Florida, are among the new players who recently began working out with the Trojans.

Byers' father, Al, said his son consulted with USC trainers during visits to spring practice and also followed a workout regimen before he arrived on campus after graduating from high school.

He also said his son had a physical to make sure he could handle the demands.

"You just hope and pray that you know everything you need to know and ... be prepared as well as you can," Al Byers said in a phone interview.

In the aftermath of Umeh's death, Arizona might benefit from steps taken by USC following its national championship season in 2003.

Last year, USC began fall workouts while mourning the death of Drean Rucker, an incoming freshman linebacker from Moreno Valley Canyon Springs High who drowned off Huntington State Beach in July 2003.

Because Rucker had a younger brother who might be regarded as a potential recruit, USC was prevented from contacting the family during certain periods of the year and could not provide the family with benefits such as game tickets or an invitation to the team banquet.

"It was horrible," Carroll said.

As a result, Noel Ragsdale, USC's faculty athletic representative, submitted a request to the NCAA asking for a waiver of recruiting rules as it related to the Rucker family. She also requested the decision be put in the NCAA's precedent database so that it would be available to institutions in similarly tragic circumstances.

Ragsdale said USC received a blanket waiver from the NCAA that is in effect until the point that any USC coach actually begins recruiting Rucker's brother.

Ragsdale said she would be contacting Arizona officials to make sure they are aware of USC's waiver.

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