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OSAWATOMIE, Kansas - The Spring Hill football player who died after he collapsed during a game Thursday had just returned from missing several weeks because of a concussion, his family pastor said.
Nathan Stiles was playing his first game for Spring Hill since returning from the injury when he collapsed on the sideline of Spring Hill’s game at Osawatomie High School.
A woman who says her son plays on the Osawatomie team told NBC Action News her son saw Nathan intercept an Osawatomie pass and get hit on the play. Her husband, who was standing on the sidelines, says he saw Nathan walk to the sidelines and collapse.
District superintendent Dr. Bart Goering confirmed he collapsed on the sideline, but would not comment on the potential origin of his injury.
A spokesman with Miami County EMS says they got a call to Osawatomie's Lynn Dickey Field about 8:23 p.m. Thursday on a 'traumatic injury.'
"It was just a routine play. I don't think there was anything special," Spring Hill head coach Anthony Orrick told the Miami County Republic after the game. "I think he just hit the ground pretty hard with his head. He came on the sideline and told one of my assistants, 'my head is really hurting.' He sat down on the bench. He then stood up, but his legs went underneath him and collapsed there."
Stiles’ family pastor told NBC Action News the high school senior, who was elected earlier this month as Spring Hill Homecoming King, had bleeding in his brain which resulted in a seizure and his organs shutting down. He never regained consciousness after he collapsed.
Pastor Laurie Johnston says the family has been a member of Hillsdale Presbyterian Church for about 12 years. Pastor Johnston spent the overnight hours with the Stiles family.
She said there were about 50 people at University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where he was taken by helicopter ambulance Thursday night, praying for him. Johnston said Nathan was strong on the field and in his faith. She added Nathan was active in church, a multi-sport athlete and honor roll student.
She shared what she believes would be a final message from Nathan: "If I can speak for him in any way, it would be to call people to get serious about their life and their faith and how they are living."
Hundreds attended a vigil Friday night at Grace Community Church in Spring Hill, Kansas. A facebook page has been created in Nathan's memory , and there have also been comments posted about Nathan on the Spring Hill High School Facebook page.
“My neighbor used to be best friends with him so he was always over. Yea, he was my first kiss.”
The following statement was released on behalf of the Stiles family by The University of Kansas Hospital:
"We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community over the death of our beloved Nathan. He was an outstanding young man with a limitless future. We are comforted by our faith and our friends, and will always be comforted by having Nathan in our lives. We know there are many questions, some personal and some concerning broad issues, which people want to ask us. We ask that you respect our desire and the desire of our family and friends to deal with all facets of this tragedy in a private manner."
Johnston says Thursday night's game was the first for Nathan since he was sidelined with a concussion three weeks ago. She says he was released to play in Thursday's game.
"He'd had a concussion three weeks before, he did not play; he followed doctor's orders. He was released for the last game of the season in Osawatomie," said Johnston.
Goering was among those who stayed at the hospital overnight. He says there was "a lot of prayers, a lot of support, friends, family, parents…just a lot of concern."
A statement from the district says the Spring Hill High School's crisis plan has been activated, and counselors are on site for students and staff. A makeshift memorial was being formed outside the school Friday afternoon by a brick with Nathan's name on it.
"The district's primary concern is for the Stiles family and the many students and staff members that are affected by this tragedy," the statement said.
Nathan was one of 267 seniors from high schools in Johnson County who were recognized by the University of Kansas for their academic achievements and named Kansas Honor Scholars earlier this month at a reception at Gardner-Edgerton High School.
Nathan was the son of Miami County Commissioner Ron Stiles.
Spring Hill won the game 99-72. Nathan had scored two touchdowns in the game.
Nathan would have turned 18 on Tuesday.
Nathan's death is the latest in a string of football-related deaths across the country. Earlier this week, a Notre Dame student died when a tower he was filming football practice from collapsed.
In September, a Texas high school quarterback collapsed on the sideline after throwing a touchdown pass and later died at a hospital. KFDM-TV, in Beaumont, Texas, reported Thursday his cause of death remained under investigation.
And last month in McLouth, Kansas, a McLouth High School senior lost his leg after an injury he sustained in a game.
Football-related deaths, at seven, reached a seven-year high in the 2008-09 school year, according to research numbers provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Numbers for the 2009-10 and current school years were not available.