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Story highlights

Euclid High School student Andre Jackson was injured Friday and died on Sunday

Football-related deaths are extremely rare, but there are a few each year

(CNN) —  

A high school near Cleveland is mourning the tragic death of a football player days after he was injured during a game Friday night.

Andre Jackson, 17, was hurt during a kickoff play in which he may have been kicked or kneed by another player while going after the ball, the football coach told CNN affiliate WEWS.

Jackson, a fullback and outside linebacker for Euclid High School in Euclid, walked off the field after the play, went to the hospital on Friday and was released, WEWS reported.

On Sunday, the high school junior went to a hospital, was treated, and died. The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday that the cause of death was a blow to Jackson’s abdomen, which led to a small bowel laceration and peritonitis. Peritonitis is inflammation of the membrane lining the inner abdominal wall.

“This community just lost such a special boy, and he’s irreplaceable. There’ll never be a smile like Andre Jackson’s,” Jeff Rotsky, Euclid High’s head football coach, told WEWS.

“He would be the first kid at study hall. He’d go for extra help. He was what you want to see out of a young man who wanted more out of life,” Rotsky said. “He deserved so much more.”

Jackson, whose favorite subject in school was math, was described as a “hardworking student athlete” in a statement from the Euclid City School District. He “brought smiles to all those with whom he came in contact,” the statement said.

Although football-related deaths are extremely rare, a few other high schools across the country have lost players at young ages this year.

High school football deaths, by the numbers

Including Jackson, there have been five high school football-related fatalities since July, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Just two weeks ago, Chase Lightfoot, a football player at Shadow Creek High School in Pearland, Texas, died of a cardiovascular problem on September 10 after he collapsed during the second half of a game, according to CNN affiliate KTRK. He was 17 years old.

In August, Lewis Simpkins, a football player at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina, collapsed on the field during practice. He was taken to a hospital and died shortly after, according to CNN affiliate WYFF. He was 14 years old. Simpkins died as a result of a pre-existing heart condition and complications from an irregular heartbeat, WYFF reported, and the heat and humidity during football practice probably contributed to his death.

More than 1 million high school athletes play football. During last year’s football season, seven deaths in the United States were directly related to the sport, and they all involved high school players (PDF), according to a report from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Among high school and college players, about 12 football-related fatalities occur each year, according to a 2013 analysis from the center. The most common causes of death are cardiac failure, brain injury and heat illness.

There are three times as many catastrophic football injuries among high school athletes as college athletes, according to the Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released recommendations last year to improve the safety of young football players. The recommendations, which were published in the journal Pediatrics, were:

  • “Officials and coaches must ensure proper enforcement of the rules of the game. A significant number of concussions and catastrophic injuries occur because of improper and illegal contact, such as spear tackling.”
  • “Removing tackling from football altogether would likely lead to a decrease in the incidence of overall injuries, severe injuries, catastrophic injuries and concussions.”
  • “The expansion of nontackling leagues for young athletes who enjoy the game of football and want to be physically active but do not want to be exposed to the collisions currently associated with the game should be considered by football leagues and organizations.”
  • “Efforts should be made by coaches and officials to reduce the number of impacts to the head that occur during participation in football. Further research is needed in this area.”
  • “Delaying the age at which tackling is introduced to the game would likely decrease the risk of these injuries for the age levels at which tackling would be prohibited.”
  • “Although definitive scientific evidence is lacking, strengthening of the cervical musculature (in the neck) will likely reduce the risk of concussions in football by limiting the acceleration of the head after impact.”
  • “Efforts should be made by football teams to have athletic trainers at the sidelines during organized football games and practices.”

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Many experts point to a shortage of full-time high school athletic trainers as a possible link to the higher risk of injury for young football players.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that, while 70% of schools provide trainers at games and practices, only about one-third have full-time athletic trainers.

“This number must increase further to provide appropriate medical coverage at athletic practices and games for secondary school athletes,” the study concludes.