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Texas Teenager Is Latest Football Player to Die

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 14-year-old high school football player died in a Houston hospital Saturday after collapsing at practice, the third such death of a teenager in four days and the 11th football-related fatality--ranging from middle school students to professionals--this year.

Leonard Carter II, soon to be a sophomore at Lamar High School, was pronounced dead nearly two hours after being rushed to Texas Children’s Hospital from the practice field, according to the Houston Independent School District.

It was the latest in a series of deaths dating from Feb. 26, when Florida State University’s Devaughn Darling collapsed after a supervised off-season workout. The tragedies first attracted national attention Aug. 1, when Minnesota Viking tackle Korey Stringer died of heatstroke. Eight of the 11 deaths have been in the last four weeks.

The deaths have stunned football fans, alarmed NFL officials and school administrators and focused increased public scrutiny on coaching techniques, heat-related ailments and dietary supplements favored by some athletes.

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Heat may have been a factor in the death of 5-foot-6, 152-pound Leonard, who collapsed at 11:15 a.m. Midday temperatures in Houston were in the high 80s and low 90s, with high humidity. The Houston Chronicle reported today that the boy’s uncle said hospital officials told the family Leonard had a temperature of 107. An autopsy is planned, the school district said.

“Today was the first day in football pads,” the player’s father, Leonard Carter Sr., told Houston’s KRIV-TV. “He was excited.”

A teacher who witnessed the attempts to revive Carter said parents held up an umbrella and blankets for shade.

Teammate Matthew Hogue told reporters: “He was breathing, but he couldn’t get any air in. It sounded like he had a lot of buildup in his throat. You could tell by the gurgling noise he was making, he couldn’t get any air in.”

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A day earlier, another Texas youth, 15-year-old Steven Taylor, died after returning home from morning practice at Luling High School in Central Texas. He was unconscious and not breathing when paramedics arrived at his home. He was taken to a Luling hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The youngest victim, 13-year-old Jamarious Derez Bennett, collapsed Wednesday on the practice field in Monticello, Ga., shortly after his middle school team completed stretching drills. Although the hospital is less than a quarter-mile away and paramedics arrived within minutes, they were unable to revive the 4-foot-9, 100-pound boy, who had no history of health problems.

“We’ve talked to all the coaches and the medical staff,” Patrick Bennett, the boy’s father, said Saturday. “I feel they did the best they could.”

An autopsy is pending, and it is not known whether heat played a role in Jamarious’ death. The “heat index"--the composite of temperature and relative humidity--was 100 degrees when he complained of blurred vision and an upset stomach.

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Jamarious told his coach, who told him to take a break and drink water. He collapsed as a student trainer walked him to a water fountain, and never regained consciousness.

Although heat may be a factor in some of the deaths, there does not appear to be a common denominator.

Heatstroke deaths are rare but not unknown in football, according to a study earlier this year by the University of North Carolina’s department of exercise and sports science. The report, funded by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. and National Federation of State High School Assns., said two high school and two college football players died of heatstroke last year. There have been 103 such deaths since 1960.

Texas football coaches are acutely aware of the danger of heat.

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“You can go out there in 95-degree temperatures with humidity to match,” said Mike Johnston, who for 22 years has coached at Katy High School, outside Houston. “When it’s really dangerous is when there is no breeze. As long as there is breeze, its not near as stifling.”

To compensate for the heat, Johnston has his players start and end practice early in the day. It’s not uncommon for players to scrimmage at 7:30 a.m.

Rashidi Wheeler, 22, a Northwestern University safety and an asthmatic from Ontario, was said by some teammates to have been using Ultimate Orange. The over-the-counter supplement contains ephedrine, a stimulant used in some over-the-counter dietary supplements but banned by the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee. Wheeler collapsed and died at a preseason workout Aug. 3.

There is no definitive evidence ephedrine led to the death of any of the players.

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In addition to the three teens who died last week, these are the other football-related fatalities this year:

* Darling, 18, was a Florida State freshman linebacker. Autopsy results were inconclusive on the cause of death but showed that he had taken ephedrine.

* Drew Privett, 16, died in May after an evening practice at North Jackson High School in Stevenson, Ala.

* Nick Allen, 14, of the same Alabama high school, died June 20 after collapsing at a practice session. An autopsy found a preexisting heart condition.

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* Eraste Autin, 18, an incoming freshman fullback at Florida, died July 25 in Gainesville, Fla., nearly a week after falling into a coma during a voluntary summer conditioning workout with teammates. No autopsy was performed, and the cause of death has not been determined.

* Travis Stowers, 17, a junior offensive lineman at Clinton Central High in Michigantown, Ind., died Aug. 1, a day after collapsing at practice. Heat may be involved in the death, but no autopsy results are yet available.

* Stringer, 27, died of heatstroke complications after the second day of training camp in Mankato, Minn.

* Wheeler may have died of bronchial asthma, according to a preliminary report from the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Autopsy reports, including toxicology tests, are pending.

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* Curtis Jones, 34, a defensive lineman for a Utah-based indoor football team, died after a game Aug. 5 in Las Vegas. Toxicology and other tests are pending. He also allegedly was taking ephedrine.

The NFL sent a memo to its 32 teams in December, warning players about the possible side effects of ephedrine. Government agencies in California and elsewhere are reviewing whether it should be subject to further control.

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Times researcher Lianne Hart in Houston and Associated Press also contributed to this story.

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