STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Rural Georgia community reels from high school football player's death

Brad Webber has been coaching football for 30 years, and his worst fear came true during Friday night's game...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 9:03 AM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 9:03 AM

Brad Webber has been coaching football for 30 years, and his worst fear came true during Friday night's game.

Dylan Thomas, a 16-year-old linebacker for his Pike County High School football team, had fallen in the third quarter and needed to be helped off the field. His leg was feeling weird, he said.

Continents and regions

Deaths and fatalities

Diseases and disorders

Education

Extracurricular activities

Football (American)

Georgia

Head injuries

Health and medical

High school sports

Law and legal system

Negligence (legal)

North America

Society

Southeastern United States

Sports and recreation

The Americas

Torts

United States

Wounds and injuries

Coaches and trainers

Communities and neighborhoods

Education systems and institutions

High school football

High schools

Primary and secondary education

Rural communities

As a doctor and trainer asked him questions and examined him, he became incoherent and lost consciousness. He was taken to a hospital but died two days later of a head injury.

"Any time I see one of our players on the ground, you just fear for the worst," coach Webber said. "The worst happened this time."

Dylan's death has put further scrutiny on the inherent dangers of playing football and rattled this rural community of Zebulon, Georgia, about an hour's drive south of Atlanta.

But amid the mourning, students and families have come together to support the Thomas family. On Friday night, for example, when Dylan went down on the sidelines, Dylan's father rushed to join his ailing son, leaving his camera behind in the stands.

Steve Fry, the mayor of Williamson, said other members of the community recovered the camera and got it back to him in 45 minutes.

"That was just a show of how the community came together, and said hey I saw that camera, I know somebody's got it, they're holding it for him," Fry said. "And from then on, it's just been an all-out effort community-wide to help Dylan and his family."

No evidence of negligence

The organization that oversees Georgia high school sports said there is no evidence of negligence in his death.

"There is no indication of any negligent action by anyone associated with Pike County in this incident," the Georgia High School Association said. "The coaches had taken every precaution to prepare for potential injuries and went beyond the required standards when working within the concussion protocol."

In reviewing the game film and speaking with school officials, the GHSA said there was no indication Dylan suffered an injury in the second quarter.

Webber said officials were not sure when or how in the game Dylan was injured. He said coaches reviewed video of the game to try to pinpoint what happened -- if he had taken a big hit to the head, for example -- but nothing stuck out.

"That makes it almost harder as well that we just didn't know," he said. "If you know, you can prevent things. But just the way that happened, it's just devastating. It's just sad."

In the third quarter, Dylan fell to the ground and reported a problem with feeling in his leg. He was helped off the field and examined by an orthopedic surgeon and the Pike County certified trainer, the GHSA said.

When he lost consciousness, he was taken to the hospital nearby and then to another hospital in Atlanta. He died there on Sunday.

The high schooler was wearing a top-of-the-line Riddell SpeedFlex helmet that his parents had bought for him to prevent a head injury.

"Dylan's dad took his own money and bought an NFL-quality helmet for Dylan, because he was somewhat concerned about head injuries," said Fry.

'I want to get out there and play for him'

Residents of Pike County, about an hour south of Atlanta, held a vigil Sunday at the high school football stadium to honor Dylan. His No. 32 jersey and the hashtags #DylanStrong and #PikeStrong are evident online and around the town, including at the Papa Johns restaurant where high school students hang out.

"At times like this everybody comes together and they just wrap their arms around and try to love everyone and support everyone," Pike County High School principal Kevin Huffstetler said.

Fry said Dylan fell off the bench while being checked on the sideline during Friday's game. After the teen went down, he woke up, said "I can't feel my body," and then passed out again, Fry said.

After Dylan was transported to the hospital, players and coaches from the two teams came together and knelt to pray for his recovery, Peach County High School said on Facebook. The coaches agreed to call off the rest of the game at that point, Huffstetler said.

Still, Huffstetler said that as of now the Pike County football team plans to play again this coming Friday. Fellow Pike County player Jake Patterson told CNN affiliate WSB that he would honor his fallen teammate on the field.

"I want to get out there and play for him because that's what he'd want for us. He'd want us to play for him instead of just quitting," he said.

'He was a fighter'

In an emotional press conference, Webber said that his son and Dylan were friends and praised the teenager.

"He was an incredible young man with work ethic that you can't believe," Webber said. "He was the heart and soul of our defense. Just great student, great family, and the sky was gonna be the limit for him."

Retaking the field without number 32 is going to be tough, he said.

"Inside him was a lion. He was a fighter, he was a tiger. There wasn't a day when he didn't come up there and practice his heart off," Webber told CNN.

Nick Burgess, Dylan's uncle, posted on Facebook that Dylan was the "golden child" in the family who brought everyone together.

"The one that had the biggest heart. The one that told me personally he was always scared to seriously hurt somebody on the field and never thought it would happen to him," Burgess wrote.

Game-related deaths of football players are rare, but they happen every fall. Last year, of the 4 million young people who played organized football, 13 died from the sport, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Four of the deaths had "direct" causes from on-field trauma or injuries, and nine deaths were due to "indirect" causes such as heat stroke or cardiac arrest. The 2017 death toll was consistent with football-related fatalities dating back to 2000.

Professional and college football administrators have been increasingly focused on limiting head injuries amid concerns in recent years that the country's most popular sport is damaging young people's brains. Efforts to limit concussions and other brain injuries have found mixed results, given the inherent violence of a sport based on large, fast men and boys repeatedly crashing into each other.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 62199

Reported Deaths: 1753
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5329110
DeSoto338727
Madison232460
Harrison222833
Rankin216830
Jackson206338
Jones180457
Forrest165353
Washington152433
Lauderdale135488
Lee127430
Neshoba123288
Lamar114613
Oktibbeha106036
Lowndes99932
Bolivar98732
Warren97630
Scott96219
Panola93611
Sunflower92623
Copiah92426
Lafayette88512
Leflore86660
Holmes85148
Pike84632
Grenada81621
Yazoo79311
Leake77125
Lincoln75641
Pontotoc7527
Wayne73621
Simpson72328
Monroe71650
Coahoma67710
Tate66524
Marion62519
Covington60112
Adams58725
Marshall5858
Winston58415
George5495
Union53814
Newton52611
Attala50224
Pearl River49637
Tallahatchie49610
Walthall46318
Chickasaw44319
Noxubee42611
Claiborne40113
Jasper3859
Smith38513
Calhoun3819
Clay37413
Alcorn3634
Prentiss3516
Hancock34414
Tishomingo3394
Itawamba31710
Tippah31612
Lawrence3155
Yalobusha31310
Clarke31025
Montgomery2973
Tunica2926
Humphreys27411
Carroll24811
Quitman2331
Greene23211
Kemper22715
Perry2267
Jefferson Davis2146
Amite2116
Webster20112
Jefferson1936
Wilkinson18813
Sharkey1831
Stone1593
Benton1300
Choctaw1294
Franklin1172
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 90890

Reported Deaths: 1611
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12039228
Mobile9170197
Montgomery6305147
Madison508227
Tuscaloosa398466
Baldwin326323
Shelby307532
Marshall298433
Unassigned281255
Lee251940
Morgan224315
Etowah195728
DeKalb171813
Elmore162637
Calhoun159012
Walker147464
Houston132712
Dallas129423
Russell12471
St. Clair123612
Limestone120813
Franklin120620
Cullman115711
Colbert110712
Lauderdale109512
Autauga103020
Escambia97915
Talladega92713
Jackson8704
Chambers82838
Tallapoosa82278
Dale78722
Butler75135
Blount7413
Chilton7226
Coffee7165
Covington71520
Pike6607
Barbour5635
Lowndes55824
Marion54724
Marengo52614
Clarke4879
Hale45726
Bullock44111
Winston43211
Perry4314
Wilcox4089
Monroe3954
Randolph39110
Bibb3813
Conecuh37210
Pickens3719
Sumter35918
Lawrence3240
Washington31412
Macon31113
Crenshaw2973
Choctaw27612
Cherokee2477
Henry2463
Greene24511
Geneva2420
Clay2235
Lamar2032
Fayette1765
Cleburne1211
Coosa922
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
Columbus
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 69°
Oxford
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 64°
Starkville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 64°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather