Daryl Tilghman led the Theodore Roosevelt football team to its first D.C. City title game in 1998 despite having only 24 players. (Preston Keres/The Washington Post)

As he often did during their long friendship, Rob Nickens called Daryl Tilghman late Wednesday night to run something by him. Tilghman, who hired Nickens as Theodore Roosevelt’s basketball coach in 2006, would typically get back to him in the wee hours of the night, offering sound advice laced with humor and love. This time, however, that return phone call never came.

Tilghman, one of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association’s most recognizable faces, died Thursday morning of an apparent heart attack at the age of 48. He is survived by his wife, Tracy.

Tilghman, a 1984 graduate of Roosevelt, spent 17 years as the Petworth school’s football coach and athletic director before retiring in 2012. He influenced countless players and coaches in the District, and had a strong hand in sending more than a few to the next level.

“I don’t think I ever had anybody in my corner that believed in me more than he did,” Nickens said. “When you see Daryl, you see Roosevelt and D.C. sports because he cared so much about the kids.”

Tilghman briefly played offensive line at Howard University before knee injuries ended his career. He returned to Roosevelt as an assistant coach before taking over as head coach and athletic director in 1995.

“He was a no-nonsense coach and teacher whose main concern was to make sure young people did the right thing and learned life lessons,” said Dr. Maurice Butler, who coached Tilghman as a Roosevelt assistant and also later served on his staff. “He would let you know if you did wrong. Some liked it and some didn’t, but they all respected him because they knew he cared.”

Tilghman led a number of talented student-athletes at Roosevelt, including former Maryland Terrapin and current NFL linebacker Darin Drakeford, and mentored players from neighboring schools, including former St. John’s Catholic Prep defensive lineman and recent Chicago Bears second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson. Tilghman’s impact was also felton the streets of D.C., where he more than once intervened to defuse potential violence.

“He would bend over backwards to make sure young people had a chance in life,” Butler said. “Winning was important to him, but it was never number one.”

Following his retirement from Roosevelt, Tilghman spent two seasons as an offensive line coach at McDonogh and McNamara. Last season, he helped polish the skills of one of the nation’s top offensive linemen prospects in McNamara senior Damian Prince, who will play at Maryland next fall.

“Life is too short, man,” Prince tweeted on Thursday. “That man loved me like a son. [Here] today and gone tomorrow. Changed plenty [lives] for the better in the city. RIP.”

“Daryl was a consummate professional who loved the kids and loved coaching and reaching out to young people,” McNamara Coach Keith Goganious said. “I only knew him for 15 or 16 months, but I felt like I knew him so much longer. He was a great man.”