University of Maryland using 'external group' to review procedures after football player's death

A day after the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland athletic department said it is bringing in an “external group” to review whether team protocols were followed the day the Randallstown resident was hospitalized.

McNair, a redshirt freshman entering his second year on Maryland’s football team, died Wednesday, two weeks after collapsing during an organized team workout in College Park.

Maryland acting athletic director Damon Evans declined during a news conference Thursday to say who would perform the review. But he told reporters the university “will have a team provide us the necessary feedback, so we can move forward.”

“The right thing to do when a situation like this arises is to do a review to make sure proper protocols were followed,” he said. “We will conduct that review and we will learn from that review.”

The university did not disclose the cause of McNair’s death.

Evans said McNair was participating in a supervised workout with teammates that began around 4:15 p.m. May 29 on the practice fields visible from Maryland Stadium. He said certified athletic trainers were present throughout the workout, which began with dynamic stretching and consisted of a “baseline conditioning activity” — 10 repetitions of 110-yard runs, with temperatures around 80 degrees.

“Upon completion of the workouts, our trainers noted that Jordan was having some difficulty recovering,” said Evans, who added later that he did not know exactly how long the workout lasted. “They began supporting active recovery and providing the necessary care.”

At 6 p.m., McNair was transported to a hospital.

A health department spokeswoman said Thursday that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is not involved with the investigation, and will not conduct an autopsy to determine cause of death.

McNair’s death has left the university community in mourning. Those who knew him have recalled his gap-toothed smile, strong work ethic and goofy personality. They said he was sweet and easygoing — except on the field, when the 325-pound offensive lineman became a “beast.”

Maryland football coach DJ Durkin choked up during the Thursday news conference as he tried to describe McNair. After thanking Evans for his remarks, Durkin did not speak for almost 20 seconds. He stared at the table, fidgeting with his microphone.

“My heart is broken for the reason that we're all sitting here, having this press conference,” he finally said. Almost another half-minute of silence passed. “You look for reasons. It's not reasonable that a 19-year-old should pass away. It's not reasonable that a family, parents — his parents, Marty [McNair] and Tonya [Wilson], should never have to go through this.”

Durkin said that as large as the 6-foot-4 McNair was, his heart was even bigger.

“He had a great way about him, a quiet smile,” Durkin said. “It was hard to get a word out of him. It was also hard having a conversation with him without bringing a smile to your own face."

McNair was a graduate of McDonogh, where he was named a two-time All-Metro offensive guard. McNair’s size, range and athleticism set him apart from other athletes his age. He was the highest-ranked Baltimore-area high school player in the Class of 2017, rated No. 287 nationally in the 247Sports.com Composite rankings.

He chose Maryland over about 20 other scholarship offers.

McNair was majoring in kinesiology at College Park.

Evans said during the news conference that the health and safety of the Maryland players is of “utmost importance.”

He said that all student-athletes were provided a gallon of water on the morning of May 29. They ate lunch between 2 and 2:30 p.m., and were also provided snacks and Gatorade.

Dr. Andrew Tucker, head team physician for the Ravens and medical director at MedStar Union Memorial Sports Medicine, said he was unfamiliar with McNair’s case, but that there were a variety of reasons athletes might experience health problems during practice.

They might have underlying cardiac problems, have complications related to the sickl- cell trait or suffer heatstroke, he said.

Heatstroke can occur when people participate in very vigorous exercise or physical work in tough conditions. It is common in athletes and military personnel.

“Some people’s core body temperature rises to a risky level where bad things start to happen and organs start to fail,” Tucker said.

The kidneys and liver are some of the organs that can fail, but both can now be kept functioning with dialysis.

Towson offensive lineman Gavin Class (St. Paul’s) collapsed during a summer practice in 2013 after suffering from heatstroke and underwent a successful liver transplant. In 2014, Morgan State freshmen defensive lineman Marquese Meadow died of heatstroke after a preseason practice, according to an autopsy.

According to a GoFundMe page launched by mothers of some of McNair’s Maryland teammates, he had received a liver transplant after his collapse. The page had raised more than $28,000 as of Thursday evening to aid McNair’s family.

Evans cited reasons related to confidentiality when he declined to release the cause of McNair’s death. A team physician who attended Thursday’s news conference did not answer questions.

“We understand and recognize when a young individual, especially an athlete, has an untimely and unexpected death, there are a lot of questions,” Evans said.

A private memorial service was held Thursday afternoon for faculty and students at McDonogh. Friends, family and former teammates gathered inside the school’s old stone chapel to remember a man they called the “gentle giant.”

Former McDonogh player Wyatt Cook, 21, said he would be transferring to Maryland this year from Purdue and couldn’t wait to tell his high school classmate they’d be teammates again. “I couldn’t wait to see his smile,” he said.

While McNair was remembered as quiet by some, a parent who attended Thursday’s service said there was one thing he was not shy about: his mother’s banana pudding.

He bragged about it all the time, said Jennifer Kirol of Reisterstown, whose sons were McNair’s teammates. He talked about the dozens upon dozens of boxes of Pepperidge Farm cookies that went into making it. One time, for team dinner, his mother actually brought the dessert.

And as a mother, Kirol said, she loved to see how proud McNair was of his. In fact, she said, McNair’s mother was the reason he went to Maryland in the first place.

He wanted to stay close to home.

Baltimore Sun reporters Christina Tkacik, Andrea K. McDaniels and Katherine Dunn contributed to this article.

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