Oregon St. football player from Richmond dies

December 8, 2011 7:30:04 PM PST
A former Oakland Tech football star now playing for Oregon State died just days before his 20th birthday. He collapsed playing basketball at a rec center on campus Wednesday, apparently of a heart attack. It's shocking news for his former classmates, teachers and coaches at Oakland Tech.

"I played football with him, I've known him since my freshman year. He was just like a brother to me," said Zahair Mohammed.

Students like senior Mohammed rallied to the side of head Oakland Tech football coach Delton Edwards Thursday to shed tears, share memories of Fred Thompson and attempt to make sense out of this unexpected tragedy.

"It's shocking, but we're going to make it. He's in a better place," said Edwards.

Edwards himself was raw with emotion as he counseled students saying he last spoke to Thompson Friday, just days before Thompson collapsed and died during a pick-up basketball game on campus. The two shared a very special bond.

"He always had something positive to say, always picked up my spirits when I was down, So [he's a] special kid," said Thompson.

Standing at 6'4" and weighing more than 300 pounds, Thompson was a star athlete, landing a spot as a defensive tackle on Oregon States' football team. His imposing physical presence however defied his true personality.

"He was like a big old teddy bear. If you ever needed a hug or friendship or whatever, Fred was that person that you could count on to be there with you," said Mohammed.

He lost his father at an early age and was raised by his mother and grandmother in Richmond.

"We all just wrapped our hearts and arms around Fred as he encountered some personal tragedies in his life," said Principal Sheilagh Andujar. She also describes him as a leader saying, "Fred was working his dream, he really was, and he persevered.

A shoulder injury caused Thompson to be red-shirted his first year at Oregon State, but he was looking forward to getting back on the field.

"He been working so hard, going to class, getting good grades, workouts, meetings, everything, just working hard," said Jabree Hunt, a friend of Thompson.

Even in passing, he continues to inspire this school community.

"Impact the world and Fred impacted me so hard and his death impacted me even harder, it made me really want to become somebody. No matter what it is in life, it makes me want to do something with myself," said Mohammed.

Thompson would've been 20 years old this Sunday.

A state police spokesman said he was stricken so suddenly that even if emergency personnel had been on the scene, they likely could not have saved him.

Lt. Gregg Hastings says there is no evidence of a crime in the death of freshman Thompson on Wednesday night.

An autopsy will be conducted on Friday to determine the cause of death, but Hastings said it appeared Thompson likely suffered cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat that in certain conditions can lead to death.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley said Thursday that Thompson had no history of heart issues. He knew of no family history, either.

"This is just one of those things you never want to be a part of. We will never forget Fred," said Riley, who was clearly shaken and struggled to hold back tears. "I was so proud of him."

Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis said a memorial service was being planned, and that counseling would be made available to students, who were in finals week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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