Thomas Herrion

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DENVER (AP) -- Shaken San Francisco 49ers teammates awaited word Sunday on what caused offensive lineman Thomas Herrion to collapse in the locker room and die shortly after an exhibition game against the Denver Broncos.

The 23-year-old guard collapsed after coach Mike Nolan spoke to his team following the game on a relatively cool Saturday night. Medics administered CPR on the 6-foot-3, 310-pound player before an ambulance took him to a Denver hospital.

"We didn't see anything happen," 49ers defensive lineman Marques Douglas said. "I sat by my locker and prayed for him."

The coroner's office said it would be no earlier than Sunday afternoon before any information is released on the cause of Herrion's death.

"Our thoughts are with the Herrion family and the 49ers," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday. "We will be in contact with the 49ers to see what happened."

Herrion, who played in college at Utah, was on the field for San Francisco's 14-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a touchdown with 2 seconds left in the game. About three hours after he collapsed, the team confirmed his death.

"This is a colossal tragedy for the 49ers and the entire NFL community," 49ers spokesman Aaron Salkin said.

Salkin said coaches notified players of the death at the airport, where the team was awaiting a flight back to California.

Nolan made no comments about San Francisco's 26-21 loss to the Broncos.

"There are more important things on our mind than the game," he said.

The death comes a little more than four years after offensive lineman Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings died of heatstroke during a training camp practice when the heat index soared to 110.

NFL teams since have increased efforts to teach players about how to manage the heat. On Saturday night, temperatures in Denver's thin air were in the mid-60s with 50 percent humidity, although experts say heatstroke can happen even in cool weather.

In 1979, St. Louis Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain died of a heart attack during training camp. Chuck Hughes, a Detroit Lions wide receiver, died of a heart attack during a 1971 game in Detroit against the Chicago Bears. In April, Arena Football League player Al Lucas of the Los Angeles Avengers died of a spinal-cord injury after making a tackle.

Herrion, a first-year player with the 49ers, spent part of last season on the San Francisco and Dallas practice squads. He also played this season with the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europe.

Herrion played in junior college at Kilgore College in East Texas. Travis Fox, the offensive coordinator at Kilgore, said Sunday he shared an apartment with Herrion for two weeks this summer. Herrion had returned to the school to get in shape before reporting to the 49ers.

Fox said Herrion never struggled during intense drills in 97-degree heat. He added that the lineman had no injuries or health problems while playing at Kilgore.

"The young man was in shape," he said.

Herrion's nicknames at Kilgore were "Train" and "Big T." Fox said he was called "Thunder" in Germany because his head was too big for a regular helmet.

Fox said Herrion always talked about his niece, and family was a big motivation for playing.

"When he got here," Fox recalled, "the first thing he told me was, 'I'm going to make this team and buy my mom a nice house.'"

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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