Kent State offensive lineman Jason Bitsko, 21, passed away on Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown after a roommate found him unresponsive.
A release posted on the university's official athletics site states police believe an "undetermined medical issue" was a factor. It also included comments from both director of athletics Joel Nielsen and head football coach Paul Haynes.
"Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing," Nielsen said. "We are heartbroken by the news of Jason's death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched."
"Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family," Haynes said. "As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time."
The Golden Flashes were made aware of the situation at the conclusion of the day's morning practice. All further activities scheduled for the team on Wednesday were canceled.
On Thursday, Tom Withers of The Associated Press reported how Kent State players plan to honor Bitsko this season:
Kent State players to wear No. 54 on their helmets this season to honor senior center Jason Bitsko, who died Wednesday.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 21, 2014
Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports had a picture of the helmet:
Bitsko started all 12 games for Kent State last season at right tackle and was slated to become the team's starting center heading into his junior campaign. The Huber Heights, Ohio, native had developed into one of the most reliable and versatile linemen in the Mid-American Conference.
His bio on the school's athletics site notes he was a co-recipient of the Read Award, which is given for "exemplifying hard work and dedication beyond the call of duty." College football writer Phil Steele also named him to the Preseason All-MAC Second Team.
Running back Dri Archer, who played college football at Kent State before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in May, sent out a message of condolence:
Sad day for the kent state family! I'm shocked by this news!! #RIP54 love you bro— Dri Archer #⃣1⃣ (@Dri_Archer1) August 20, 2014
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who also starred at Kent State, provided support for the family as well:
No further details were provided as to how Kent State plans to move forward following the tragedy.
The Golden Flashes are currently scheduled to start the regular season at home against Ohio on August 30.