Emotions will be running higher than normal Friday night when the University at Buffalo opens its football season against the University of Albany at UB Stadium.
There will be a moment of silence before 7 p.m. kickoff for late UB defensive end Solomon Jackson. That gesture will kick off a season that UB has dedicated to the player who died in February after collapsing during a team offseason conditioning workout.
“We watched film and we saw him on film against Albany last year, and we miss our brother and wish he could be here with us right now,” said UB senior defensive tackle Max Perisse. “So we’re trying to do everything as hard as we can and win a championship for him and go to a bowl game for him.”
Jackson, a junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., succumbed after a heart-related collapse. UB has not released any details of what medical condition or factors caused his death, although a couple of players said it happened during routine stretching exercises.
The Bulls will wear a sticker with Jackson’s No. 41 on their helmets this season. The front of their helmets include a label that reads “All 41,” and everyone in the program frequently wears “Solo 41” T-shirts. Jackson’s jersey still hangs in his locker, which is glassed off in UB’s dressing room.
“I guess the best way to honor him is to go about our daily business the way he conducted himself in working hard and being about the team all the time,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “Between shirts and stickers, there will always be on us some way to remind ourselves of what he gave to us.”
“He’s definitely on my mind a lot, especially getting ready to go into this game,” said UB senior defensive end Brandon Crawford. “At times last year he was my roommate in the hotel. It’ll definitely hit me when we go to the hotel. Just seeing how he got ready for games and seeing his locker and him not actually getting dressed is going to be kind of tough. I know he wants us to go out and play hard and do great things for him, and we want to do that in remembrance of his name.”
Jackson started six games as a sophomore last season and played about 40 percent of the defensive snaps. He had 13 tackles and two sacks. He was known among his teammates for his relentless enthusiasm.
“Every time we talk about effort and every time we talk about attitude, he comes up because his attitude and the way he approached everything had a huge influence on everyone,” said senior cornerback Boise Ross. “So that plays a huge role in what we do now.”
Ross was Jackson’s roommate most of the time on the road.
“That was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” Ross said. “I’ve never had a death in the family, and he was a close friend of mine. He’s on my mind every day. I talk to his father. He’s a very admirable guy. He’s so caring. He could be worried about other things, but he’s always calling me and asking to see how I’m doing.”
There were 21 deaths of NCAA football players in offseason workouts between 2000 and mid-2012, according to a study conducted by a consortium of sports medicine experts, including the National Athletic Trainers Association. Some were due to heat stroke and some to heart conditions.
“For me personally, it still doesn’t seem completely real,” Crawford said. “It seems like he went him on break or something and just didn’t come back, and I’m waiting for him to come back still.”