Western Carolina reciever (freshman sensation) George Richardson called me on Wednesday evening to tell me the sad news. He told me that a freshmen cornerback had passed away after workouts on Wednesday.
But Western Carolina released a statement saying that junior football player Ja’Quayvin Smalls of Mount Pleasant, S.C., died unexpectedly Wednesday evening after collapsing during conditioning drills as a part of voluntary off-season workouts.
Smalls collapsed while running as a part of the evening workout session. Wednesday’s workouts were the first with the team for Smalls, who was enrolled in the second session of WCU’s summer school that began this week.
Observers on the scene say that Smalls was complaining about cramps during the beginning of sprint exercises and was removed from the lineup to be stretched. While being treated, Smalls quit breathing at which point athletic training personnel administered CPR until emergency medical personnel from WestCare arrived at the stadium. He was transported to Harris Hospital where he died at approximately 7:30 pm.
Members of the football coaching staff and the team traveled to the hospital to be at Smalls’ side, and university student affairs and counseling staff were on hand to provide support.
“Any loss of life is a tragedy, but it is especially tragic when someone is taken from us at such a young age," said Chip Smith, WCU director of athletics. “Our hearts and prayers are with the family and friends of Ja’Quayvin, and with his coaches and teammates."
Richardson added: "I feel really sad right now. I feel bad for his family. How's coach supposed to call his mom and tell her that her son is dead. We just got here on Monday. This is just really sad. This is the type of thing that could either ruin a season, or motivate you to do better. It's all about how guys take this. Right now it's just a shock."
Smalls, who transferred to WCU after two seasons at Georgia Military College, was a part of the Catamounts’ 2009 signing class.