He may have been only 13, but to his teammates and coaches at Hollywood High School, Spencer Juarez was already a "phenomenal" athlete who fired up everyone with his touchdown catches and impressed even more experienced players.
Those teammates were in mourning Sunday, trying to come to terms with the death of the ninth-grade running back who collapsed on the field Friday evening during a freshman-sophomore football game against West Adams Preparatory High.
He was taken to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and pronounced dead about 3 p.m. Saturday. An autopsy is pending, Los Angeles County coroner's officials said.
Juarez, known for acrobatic feats on the field, also had run in the L.A. Marathon and was a straight-A student, said head coach Ceasar Sandoval.
"He was going to be very special, he was already very special," he said. "He was interested in learning everything there was about other cultures. He was very curious and wanted a lot out of life."
With only a few minutes remaining in the game, Juarez had carried the ball during a play and was returning to the sidelines to be replaced when he fell, Sandoval said. There had been no previous hints of trouble, he said.
A crisis team was scheduled to be at Hollywood High today to answer questions and help students, faculty and staff grieve, said Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Ellen Morgan.
It was uncertain if a memorial was being planned, she said.
Sandoval said he and other members of the football team felt as if they had lost a member of their own family. The team planned to play a scheduled home game Friday night against Los Angeles Senior High.
"They are tough guys, but they're sad and hurt," Sandoval said. "You don't understand why something like this happens, it's hard to comprehend. But my focus now is keeping Spencer in my heart and the rest of the football guys ready to keep on track in life."