This is the first article that ran in the paper.

Too young, too happy . . . too soon
Central players, coaches grieve over freshman football hopeful's death

By CARROLL ROGERS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/27/05
The walls in the weight room at Central Gwinnett High School are almost fluorescent yellow. The room, decorated with the Black Knights' accent color, is bright with promise, purpose and enthusiasm.

How tragedy can occur in a place like that, at a time like this, is just part of what makes Monday's loss so confusing.


VASNA WILSON/AJC
(ENLARGE)
Central Gwinnett football coach Bradley Warren shows where Jermaine Howard, 15, collapsed.

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Less than 24 hours after Jermaine Howard, 15, freshman and hopeful Black Knight football player, collapsed in the weight room and was pronounced dead later in the hospital, Central's football team gathered in the team room just opposite the weight room. They were trying to find some comfort in numbers.

"When someone old dies, they've experienced life, had a lot of good times," said Central freshman Gio De La Pena. "A kid at my age, not looking to die, loved life, loved having fun, looked at the bright side of things? It's hard. It's shocking. Sad, too."

Normally a high-noise, high-energy area, Central's fieldhouse after school Tuesday was nearly silent as players filed in to hear what coach Bradley Warren had to say.

"I didn't know what I was going to say until I started talking," Warren said after a 30-minute meeting, during which sniffles could be heard. "I said dealing with death is a part of life. I compared life and football. When you're knocked down in football, you get back up. In life, you get back up, too.

"I talked about my relationship with God. I've dealt with other losses. It wouldn't be the last time they dealt with something like this. It's part of growing up."

Warren's brother died in a car accident at age 18 when Warren was 21. When he was coaching at McIntosh County High, a player drowned over the summer. He hates that his players, too, have to learn this so young.

Warren had gotten home from Gwinnett Medical Center after 10 p.m. Monday. At midnight, he went back to the fieldhouse. He dug through paperwork, looking for answers. Howard had had two physicals since January, both fine. Warren packed up Howard's locker. He looked in his charts to see he had planned to assign Howard No. 73.

He tried to work through all that had happened, something some 40 players who had been in the weight room that afternoon were trying to do, as well.

"I was walking with [Howard] into the weight room, he was coughing a little bit," sophomore linebacker Bryce Smith recalled Tuesday afternoon. "I asked him if he was OK. I said you don't have to [lift]. You don't have to worry about anybody making fun of you. Tell the coaches you don't feel well.

"He said, 'I can do it.' He said he'd try to push through."

Howard, who had completed one conditioning drill outside before complaining of nausea and being instructed to sit out until he felt better, was spotting a teammate on the bench press when he went down, midsentence.

"Everybody thought a weight fell," said De La Pena, who had been standing nearby. "We just thought he fainted because he was hot, just sick, new kid trying to get in shape. That's when it hit us it was serious. He was having trouble breathing."

Two assistant coaches certified in CPR rushed to his side, including assistant head coach Tony Shultz, a former police officer. They used a defibrillator from a newly renovated training room next door, where the defibrillator was the only thing set up.

"I'm certified with it but never actually had to use it, hope I never do again," said Shultz, after a sleepless night. "I saw every hour turn over. I replayed it a million times. The biggest thing that pulled me through was that if it was my own son Tim, I would not have done anything differently."

Tim Shultz, 5, had been running around the weight room Monday afternoon. One of the first things players did was scoop him up and rush him out of the room.

How players handled themselves gives Warren a sense of pride and reason to believe they'll persevere.

"We've got a close-knit group," he said. "I think it's what attracted Jermaine to the program to begin with."