UB football players remembered Solomon Jackson Tuesday as one of their most enthusiastic, hard-working, unselfish, teammates.
“Me and him had a conversation where we were talking about how sometimes he felt like he was going to die on the field, like I love you all that much that I’d die on the field before I quit,” UB running back Anthone Taylor said from his home in Ohio. “It’s unbelievable that he went through conditioning and he wound up in the hospital and now we’re here.”
Jackson died Monday night, the university announced, one week after he was hospitalized as a result of a medical emergency he suffered during an off-season conditioning workout the team held.
Jackson, from Stone Mountain, Ga., was admitted to Buffalo General Medical Center. He was in his third year at UB, pursuing a major in sociology. He was 20.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Jackson family in this difficult time,” UB football coach Lance Leipold said in a statement. “Solomon was the epitome of what you want in a college student-athlete. He was a tireless worker and a great teammate. He was always willing to help and was there for everyone. He was a Godly man raised by two parents, Steve and Jakkii, who instilled great values in him. He is loved and will be missed.”
The school declined further comment on Jackson’s condition during the past week, citing federal privacy laws.
While the death of a highly fit athlete during workouts are rare, they’re not unheard of. Last September, a 15-year-old City Honors basketball player, Lamont Yancey, collapsed and died during a pick-up game. At least 21 college football players have died during offseason workouts nationwide since 2000.
Jackson’s death sent shock waves through the UB community, and it was especially hard felt by the UB football team.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Joe Licata, who finished his senior season as UB’s quarterback last fall. “He was the ultimate teammate. He’d do whatever was best for the team. He was an inspirational guy. If the offense would come off the field struggling, he’d be the first one to meet us to pick our heads up. He was just an inspiring person.”
Jackson, known as “Solo” to teammates, was ebullient in interviews with reporters. Teammates said he was just as upbeat behind closed doors.
“He was really like a brother to me,” Taylor, the running back, said. “He was so easy to get close with because there was never an awkward moment with him. He was loving and embracing. You just felt like he was somebody you could trust. You never questioned where his heart was. Off the field and on the field, he worked his butt off.”
“Right before last season, he pulled his hamstring and he tried to keep running, and he finally couldn’t run anymore,” Taylor said. “That just showed he’s going to go until he can’t go anymore.”
Jackson was a member of the UB team’s Bible study group, which met every Thursday after practice.
“He was a real deep person,” said UB linebacker Okezie Alozie, choking back tears. “He always sees the bigger picture in everything. He never let anything get him down. He had a high spirit about everything. He was really happy about life. He loved life. He loved football. He loved God. He was always in Bible study. He’d always bring forth great ideas to the table in our meetings.”
The 6-foot-1 Jackson was one of the higher-rated prospects in UB’s 2013 recruiting class. He redshirted his first season and saw backup duty as an inside linebacker in UB’s 3-3-5 defense in 2014. He switched to defensive end with UB’s conversion to a 4-3 defense last season.
Jackson started six games as a sophomore defensive end. He finished the year with 13 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Switching positions is a challenge for most players and Jackson was a tad shorter than ideal for defensive end, but UB had a glaring need for athleticism at the position, which prompted the move.
“He was never selfish,” Taylor said. “Actually, he didn’t like that they switched his position. But the way he went about it, you could never tell. … He never complained and he always tried to find something good with the bad. If you have people like that, it really keeps the morale of the team up.”
Jackson adjusted quickly enough to play 38 percent of the defensive plays, which ranked third among defensive ends on the team.
“I’ve rarely seen somebody with his strength,” Alozie said. “He’s a naturally strong kid. He was at linebacker, then you put him on D-line and he could manhandle people. It was his strength but also his heart. He wouldn’t give up.”
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. Ten of the deaths were attributed to a genetic trait related to sickle cell anemia, which occurs in about 8 percent of African Americans. Under ordinary conditions it doesn’t cause problems. Under times of extreme exertion it can cause a metabolic crisis.
The NCAA instituted universal screening for sickle cell trait in 2010. In 2011, 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized after a high-intensity offseason workout. None died. A University of California player with the sickle cell trait died after an intense workout in 2014. It is not known whether Jackson had such a trait.
UB players were trying to take heart Tuesday in the example Solomon set for them.
“He was deep into his faith,” Licata said. “That’s what makes it easier, knowing he believes that he’ll be in a better place.”
“I know he’s safe with God,” Alozie said. “One thing that’ll help anybody who looks at this situation is you can’t walk through life thinking you have another day on this earth. You can’t walk through life thinking the people around you have another day on this earth. You can’t take yourself for granted; you can’t take people for granted. You have to show each other you love each other.”
This is the second death this decade involving a UB athlete. Brian Archie, a member of the track team, took his own life in April of 2013.