Navy running back Will McKamey dies at age 19

Just three days after collapsing at a spring football practice, Navy freshman Will McKamey died Tuesday night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, the school announced.

McKamey, 19, had been in a coma since undergoing surgery Saturday to reduce swelling and bleeding on his brain. He was surrounded by family and the waiting area at the hospital was filled with teammates, coaches and classmates, all unsure why he’d fallen and whether he’d awaken.

“Our deepest and most sincere condolences go out to their entire family and friends,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said in a statement late Tuesday night. “As our Navy football family mourns the loss of one of our brothers, we also celebrate and honor his life. He loved his family, his friends and his teammates. The Brotherhood loves you! Keep the ball ‘high and tight’ in Heaven.”

McKamey had previously suffered a major head injury as a senior at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, Tenn, that prematurely ended his high school career. While McKamey’s father initially expressed concern that his son collapsed following a hit during Saturday’s practice, the player’s mother later said she did not believe he collapsed as a result of a physical blow.

Kara McKamey posted an update to Facebook on Monday saying that Navy coaches had reviewed film of practice and saw “nothing more than Will carrying the football normally, doing what he truly loves.”

McKamey collapsed on the practice field and was airlifted to Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Saturday. His family was immediately notified and quickly boarded a plane for Maryland. They knew the stakes. McKamey’s father, Randy, played at the University of Tennessee and coached his son’s high school team. Less than 15 months ago, he’d watched his son suffer a bruising hit during a game and collapse on the field. The young player was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Chattanooga and wouldn’t appear in a football game again.

Doctors at the time said he suffered from a ruptured blood vessel and surgery wasn’t required. There were initial fears that his promising football career was over.

“That definitely goes through your head,” he told WATE-TV in Knoxville a few days after the hit. “You try not to think about it, but once my parents and the doctor came in, he assured me I would not have any long-term damage, because the swelling and bleeding was going down. Told me if everything goes smoothly, I’ll be able to play again in college.”

During his senior year, he tallied more than 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, winning Tennessee’s “Back of the Year” for the state’s Class A division in 2012. Family and coaches hoped the extended recovery time would allow him to eventually contribute to the Navy program. He enrolled as a plebe last year and was an oceanography major in the academy's Third Company.

McKamey was a 5-foot-9, 170-pound slot back for Navy. He did not play during his freshman season and had not competed in a game since high school.

When his father, Randy, learned the news Saturday that his son had fallen again, he tweeted: “Not sure I have the strength to go through this again. Will is in surgery to remove pressure from a hit sustained during Navy practice today.”

The family said McKamey didn’t have football contact for nine months and he was seen by four neurosurgeons during his recovery. “I want to be clear that the Navy football program nor us as his parents would have ever allowed him to be in a dangerous situation,” Kara McKamey wrote on Facebook earlier this week.

Navy cancelled football practices on Monday and Tuesday.

“We are all so very heartbroken by the death of Midshipman Will McKamey,” the school's superintendent Mike Miller said in a release. “This is devastating news for his family, his classmates, his teammates and the entire Naval Academy family. ”

Funeral arrangements were still pending Tuesday night. The school planned to offer grief counseling services to teammates, fellow midshipmen, faculty and staff.

“We don’t know why this happened,” Kara McKamey said in a Facebook post this week. “We can only have faith that God's plan is the perfect plan and only He can be the ultimate healer and source of comfort for all of us during this time.”

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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