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High School Football's Deadly Numbers

Demario Harris (Troy Messenger)

The 2014 high school football season got off to a deadly start.

The 2014 high school football season got off to a deadly start.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Alabama high school football star Demario Harris Jr., 17, took a hit during a game. He died soon after of a brain hemorrhage resulting from the injury, according to his father. "He had an unbelievable smile, made perfect grades, never missed a practice, worked his tail off,” said a former coach.

Isaiah Langston, 17, a high school junior at Rolesville High School in North Carolina, died Sept. 29 after collapsing during a game. (An autopsy would later show that he died as a result of a hit to the head that occurred while playing football.) Isaiah was an aspiring artist who hoped to attend an art school after graduation, his brother told ABC11, adding that Isaiah had the biggest heart and never met a stranger.

Two days later on Oct. 1, New York state high schooler Tom Cutinella, 16, sustained a head injury during a football game and later died. "He always went out of his way to make you smile," a teammate said. Cutinella was the third high school football player to die of game-related injuries in recent weeks, but he wouldn't be the last.

On Oct. 17, Park View High School junior Jamond Salley died after being injured during a game in South Hill, Virginia. Hit during the first half, he received prompt medical care but lost consciousness and began to have seizures, according to Sports Illustrated. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. A school official praised Salley's achievements as an athlete and student, describing him as having "a big heart and a smile that would instantly capture your attention."

On average 12.2 players die of injuries and illnesses related to high school football every season, according to a 2013 report by The American Journal of Sports Medicine. These injuries include concussions, traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, heat stroke and heat-related illnesses, as well as congenital illnesses made worse by the overexertion of training and competition.

The first week in October marked the halfway point of the regular football season. By the same time last year, seven young men were dead. They included Jaleel Gipson, who died after breaking his back in spring training; Evan Raines, who died following preseason practice; Mitchell Cook, 14, who collapsed during practice; De’Antre Turman, who died after breaking his neck in a preseason scrimmage; Tyler Lewellen, who fell into a coma and died after a helmet-to-helmet collision; Damon Janes, who also died after a helmet-to-helmet collision, prompting his team to forfeit the rest of the season; and Jake West, who collapsed and died after practice as a result of an enlarged heart. By the end of the 2013 season, four more players would be dead: Andre Maloney, Dylan Jeffries, Charles Youvella, and Chad Stover.

Though far from safe, football is not the most dangerous high school sport; that dubious distinction goes to boys softball, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. 

But football is dangerous and can be made less deadly for young men. Instituting more safety precautions, such as keeping medical personnel on hand during practices and requiring more frequent heart screenings, could help reduce the toll the sport is taking on America's youth.