Mississippi State University Football Player Dies Suddenly at 18, Just Two Days Before Birthday

Mississippi State offensive linemen Sam Westmoreland saw some glory days before college as a star at Tupelo High School.

But the freshman will never see his 19th birthday. Instead, Westmoreland was reported dead on Oct. 19, two days shy of his birthday, according to Mississippi State Athletics.

Capt. Brett Watson of the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office said police responded to a call at about 11 a.m. that Wednesday, according to the Clarion Ledger.

Westmoreland was found dead outside of Blackjack Missionary Baptist Church, Watson said.

No foul play is suspected.

“One of my memories of Sam is that he was always smiling. It didn’t matter what was going on at practice or what. When he showed up at the fieldhouse he was always with a smile. He greeted you with a smile every day,” former Tupelo High School coach Trent Hammond said.

The university did not release any details of his death.

The university said in a release on the Mississippi State Athletics website that it was cooperating with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office and the Oktibbeha County Coroner’s Office in their investigation into the teen’s death.

“The Mississippi State Athletics Family is heartbroken by the sudden death of Sam Westmoreland. Sam was a beloved son, brother and teammate, and a tremendous young man with a limitless future,” head football coach Mike Leach said.

“He will always be remembered and deeply missed by everyone who knew and loved him,” Leach said, adding that “our thoughts and prayers go out to the Westmoreland family.”

MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen said the university was “heartbroken by the sudden loss of Sam Westmoreland.”

“Mississippi State is a family, and we are all mourning during this trying time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Westmoreland family and everyone who knew and loved Sam,” he said.

Westmoreland was 6’4” and weighed 260 pounds. He was majoring in industrial technology.

Westmoreland is one of many athletes who have been stricken in recent times.

“Although SDA [sudden death of athletes] is a rare event, recent data suggests that it is probably more common than previously thought,” a recent report in Science Direct said.

The report said finding common threads is difficult because data to accurately study the various cases around the nation are hard to find.

A 2009 report in the journal Circulation covering 1,866 deaths of youth athletes between 1986 and 2003 found that “sudden deaths were predominantly due to cardiovascular disease,” with 56 percent of the deaths linked to that.

The study concluded at the time that “the absolute number of cardiovascular sudden deaths in young U.S. athletes was somewhat higher than previous estimates but relatively low nevertheless, with a rate of <100 per year.” “These data are relevant to the current debate surrounding preparticipation screening programs with ECGs [electrocardiograms] and also suggest the need for systematic and mandatory reporting of athlete sudden deaths to a national registry,” the study said.

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