KENT, Ohio -- Kent State's head football Coach Paul Haynes spoke at a press conference today about the loss of student-athlete Jason Bitsko, who died unexpectedly Wednesday.
"Jason Bitsko was not just a Golden Flash; he was a son; he was a brother; he was a mentor; he was a friend. He was just not known for the things he did on the field; he was known by a lot of people at this university," said Haynes.
Bitsko, a marketing major at Kent State University, did not report to practice early on Wednesday and was discovered unresponsive in his off-campus apartment.
A cause of death has not yet been determined but Brimfield police has said there was no evidence of foul play or illegal activity.
Also on Thursday, a friend and teammate, Nate Vance, said Bitsko's influence went well beyond the football field. "The impact he had on our team was truly a great one. I have never seen someone light up a room as quickly and as easily as he did and he just wanted to make everybody's day as good as he could possibly do it and he wanted to make our team as good as he possibly could."
"He knew tomorrow wasn't promised, lived through every day with a joy, a kick in his step that was so unlike anyone else that I have ever known," added Vance.
The university continued to provide counseling on Thursday, officially cancelling football practice to allow the team and others to grieve.
But Vance said the team chose to do walkthroughs because that is what they believe Bitsko would have wanted.
Haynes said he has received messages from teachers and coaches in Bitsko's hometown of Huber Heights and has received consoling messages from Youngstown State University President and former Ohio State Buckeye's Head Coach Jim Tressel, as well as from former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungee.
He told reporters on Thursday that he also spent several hours with Bitsko's parents at a local hospital on Wednesday.
"They are incredible people," said Haynes, explaining Bitsko's mom "was apologetic to me just for the timing of when we have to get prepared for a game and when the funeral will be and dad wanted his scholarship to go to a walk on."
Haynes also announced that the team will honor Bitsko's legacy this season.
"We will wear a 54 on the side of our helmets. One side will be our Kent logo; the other side will be the number 54," said Haynes.
Bitsko, 21, was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.
He was about to begin his fourth year on the football team and would have been the starting center for the upcoming season.
At the press conference, Haynes said Bitsko's impact will go well beyond the locker room.
"As a football family, we are saddened and grieving, and it is a process we will continue to get through," he said.
In a release, the school said Thursday:
"There will be no football practices held today, and members of the media are asked to respect the privacy of team members who are still coping with this tragedy.
The university continues to provide counseling services and support to all student-athletes and staff members within university athletics as they deal with this loss. Counseling is always available by contacting Psychological Services at the DeWeese Health Center at 330-672-2487. Counseling and support are also available through the Counseling and Human Development Center in White Hall and the Psychological Clinic in Kent Hall."
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