Elijah Gorham, a charismatic football player at Baltimore’s Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School known for supporting his fellow students, has died at age 17, officials said Monday.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of our fellow brother, and teammate Elijah Gorham,” read a statement from Mervo High School Football on Twitter. “We ask that our football community continue to uplift Elijah’s family, teammates and friends in prayer.”
The official cause of death was not released Monday. The senior wide receiver was seriously injured during a Sept. 18 game against Dunbar High School when he landed hard trying to make a catch in the end zone. He stayed down along the sideline for nearly 45 minutes, and then he was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
Coaches did not disclose the nature of Gorham’s injury but said the next day that surgery to repair it appeared successful, although he remained hospitalized.
“We were under the impression that things were progressing satisfactorily,” Mervo coach Patrick Nixon said. “So today is a bit of a shock for us because we didn’t anticipate this.”
Nixon said he’ll remember Gorham for his selflessness.
“No matter how rough my days were, I could always count on Elijah to ask how my day was,” Nixon said. “Elijah was more than an athlete. A lot of educators talk about how kids are good kids — Elijah really was a good kid through and through.”
Gorham’s brother, Donta Allen, cherished the shared love they had for football.
“He’s very electric and he loved playing football — that’s what he loved to do. And he loved to be around his friends and family,” he said.
“He played football his whole life. I’m his older brother and played football before him and he used to always put on all my equipment. After I got done at practice, he would put on my equipment and want to play, like literally. We could watch football for hours.”
Mervo principal Georgina Aye said Gorham was known as charismatic, optimistic and supportive of his fellow students.
“Elijah was an amazing scholar and athlete. He embodied what it meant to be a student at Mervo,” she said. “He had a smile that could light up a room.”
One of his friends told her that he thought of him as a good listener, a person he could turn to when he had a problem, Aye said. The student knew Gorham “would take the conversation to heart,” but keep the details private and offer support and friendship when needed, she said.
Aye met Gorham in the first weeks of school at a meeting of those who were taking the AP Seminar, high-level course designed to have students do research. While some of the students seemed daunted by the course, she said, Gorham was looking forward to the research. He was considered a strong student.
“He had this charisma about him and he was very genuine,” Aye said. “He definitely wanted to go to college and was working on applications to four-year colleges. And he wanted to be an athlete at the college level.”
Football was his passion, she said.
Aye said she called Gorham’s mother Monday and asked permission to tell all of the players together after school of his death so that they could lean on one another. School psychologists and social workers were on hand to help the students.
“They were pretty broken up,” Aye said. “They took it pretty rough,” she said, adding that his fellow seniors were “heartbroken.”
In a statement, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a 2002 graduate of the school, called Gorham’s death an “unspeakable tragedy.”
“He was a young man full of promise with an infectious spirit,” Scott said.
Gorham spent his freshman year at Reginald Lewis High School and played on Mervo’s junior varsity team as a sophomore in 2019.
Mervo is scheduled to play at City College on Thursday afternoon. The school has not announced if the game will be postponed.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.