Sports Outside the Beltway

Did the University of Central Florida practice a football player to death?

Players and coaches are telling entirely different stories as to how Ereck Plancher died last month. From the Orlando Sentinel-

Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old receiver from Naples, was taken to a hospital March 18 and was pronounced dead about an hour after the workout, known as a “mat drill.”

A preliminary autopsy was inconclusive. Further tests are under way to determine the cause of Plancher’s death.

The UCF players, who asked for anonymity because they fear retribution from football coaches, said Plancher’s final practice was more intense than the basic-conditioning workout described by UCF officials.

Students on scholarship have a great deal to lose by speaking up. Whereas government officials want annonymity for a myriad of reasons when they leak which is often done for their egos, I’m more inclined to believe these students.

In an interview with the Sentinel, UCF coach George O’Leary and his football staff disputed the four players’ account of Plancher’s final practice.

“I did not see him struggle on the field,” O’Leary said of the morning Plancher died. “From my professional opinion, what should have been done for his care was being done.”

O’Leary’s professional opinion included puffing up his resume which when discovered caused him to resign as head coach of Notre Dame. This coach has lied when its suited his purposes in the past. Is he lying now?

The next part of the article is interesting.

The players said they decided to talk to Sentinel reporters because they were upset about the school’s portrayal of a “10-minute, 26-second” workout that included a “weights component” described by UCF Athletic Director Keith Tribble in a news conference the afternoon of Plancher’s death. UCF Executive Associate Athletic Director David Chambers a week later clarified Tribble’s statement, saying the workout lasted about 20 minutes. UCF spokesman Grant Heston said Thursday that officials were relaying what they thought was accurate information.

“We were acting on the best information we had available in the hours immediately after Ereck’s death,” Heston said. “Subsequently, we learned that the workout was lengthier than we originally believed.”

The school is backtracking already. UCF coaches had to know what drills were conducted. How or why misleading information was given out, I think we all can take a guess at that.

I’m putting the rest of the Sentinel article beneath the fold. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. George O’Leary may soon be out of work again. UCF gave this disgraced coach a second chance. If O”Leary is found to be lying, he should be fired. Football isn’t worth dying for.

Players said the March 18 workout included:

*Multiple agility work stations that lasted five minutes each.

*Two runs on a 200-yard obstacle course.

*Two timed sprints from sideline to sideline.

They said those drills, conducted in the Knights’ indoor fieldhouse, came after players lifted weights for an hour, also a supervised activity.

“Everybody was struggling at times,” one player said. “. . . But he [Ereck] was running, and I could tell something wasn’t right. His eyes got real dark, and he was squinting like he was blinded by the sun. He was making this moaning noise, trying to breathe real hard.”

The four players said Plancher fell during the final sprint and members of the UCF coaching staff yelled at him to finish the drill.

“Ereck took off running about 5 yards and fell; the coaches were yelling at him to get up, and of course he came in last,” one player said.

O’Leary said he didn’t see Plancher fall but did see him get up during one of the two runs.

Offensive coordinator Tim Salem said he saw no signs that Plancher was having problems during the workout.

“When he was coming through my station, he actually was passing people. He was not struggling at that time. He was working harder than other kids.”

After the workout, the team huddled in the middle of the field, where O’Leary singled out Plancher and cursed at him for lack of effort during the final sprint, the four players said.

All four players recall that O’Leary said to Plancher, “That’s a bunch of [expletive] out of you, son,” in the huddle. O’Leary denied cursing at Plancher but recalled telling people around him, “He’s better than that.”

“Ereck was in the back when O’Leary was yelling at him, but Ereck couldn’t even look at him,” one of the players said. “He was trying to catch his breath the whole time, and he never could.”

Plancher was noticeably woozy and staggering as he tried to participate in the final jumping-jacks drill, the players said. The team finished those exercises, then huddled one final time. Plancher collapsed while walking away from the huddle, the players said.

Salem confirmed that the post-weightlifting workout involved mat drills, a series of strenuous agility drills that are considered to be among the most difficult football conditioning drills.

The four players interviewed by the Sentinel said several players vomited during the workout.

“It wasn’t just Ereck that was hurting. It was six or seven other people,” one of the players said.

The players said they did not see Plancher vomit. O’Leary said he only saw one player vomit, and that player “throws up all the time.”

O’Leary reiterated his March 20 comment that the workout was not taxing.

“I always look at the kids, at their sweat,” he said. “They had little rings of sweat around their neck and a little under their armpits. That’s how I just know whether it was a taxing workout.”

One of the four players who spoke with the Sentinel, a veteran, disagreed, saying: “It was the toughest workout since I’ve been here. It definitely was not a light workout.”

O’Leary said that when the players got to the huddle after the drills, “I told them what time practice was tomorrow. I talked about academics. I basically said what the dress was for the next day. Then players went for their cool-down and jumping jacks.”

O’Leary said he broke the huddle, and “the next thing I saw, I turned, I saw the trainer with Ereck. Robert Jackson was the trainer there. I went over, and Ereck was just taking a knee. I asked, ‘Did you have breakfast?’ ”

Plancher “was already not responding,” said one player who participated in the workout.

O’Leary said the trainer and the receivers coach were trying to give Plancher water. Players carried Plancher outside and waited for an ambulance to arrive while UCF athletic trainers began rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, called 911 and attached an automated external defibrillator.

UCF police officers arrived at 10:52 a.m. to find Plancher unconscious and lying on a bench. Plancher was taken to Florida Hospital East and pronounced dead at 11:51 a.m.

Chris Metzger, Plancher’s football coach at Lely High in Naples, said Plancher told him in late March or early April of 2007 that he collapsed during a workout at UCF. Several of Plancher’s relatives and friends also said the player told them he collapsed during a UCF workout.

“He told me he was having a hard time with the workouts and had even passed out once,” Metzger said. “That was unusual for him because he was in great shape. I asked him if the team had checked him out, and he said they did. He said they told him everything was fine, so I told him to keep working at it and everything would be OK.”

Ereck’s father, Enock, said he had never heard of his son having health problems at UCF.

“He was in perfect health,” Enock Plancher said. “He never even got sick or had a cold.”

Ereck’s mother declined to talk to reporters.

UCF officials said they have no knowledge of Plancher, a freshman who was 5 feet 10 inches and 180 pounds, having any medical problems. Officials said there was a note in Plancher’s medical file about him needing liquids during a summer workout in 2007.

Tribble said March 18 that Plancher passed an NCAA-mandated physical. Coaches and team trainers later said Plancher had a spotless medical record.

“We have no record of Ereck requiring any medical attention . . . while at UCF,” Tribble said in a statement.

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