Miller's death gives pause, not full stop
County's coaches, players go on with offseason workouts
Offseason conditioning workouts went on for Montgomery County athletes, if not exactly as usual, following the death of Northwest High School rising junior Edwin "Dek" Miller, 16.
Miller, a Jaguars football player, collapsed July 2 during a voluntary training session and died July 6. The cause of his death has yet to be determined, but its manner has hit home with football coaches, players and parents.
"My boys are both home this summer, and obviously it was dinner-table conversation," said Eric Heckman, president of the youth Rockville Football League. Heckman has two sons, Sam and Ronnie, who play college football; Ronnie played under Northwest coach Mark Maradei at Rockville High.
"Ronnie, Mark's his mentor; he was very upset and concerned about the whole thing. … I'm concerned from an emotional point of view, and as a league administrator," Eric Heckman said.
In spite of the response, nothing has changed since Miller's death about the way schools conduct workouts. At Northwest, athletes returned to the track and weight room soon afterwards.
Other coaches expressed confidence that great care is taken to ensure the safety of their athletes. Students cannot participate in athletics, including workouts, without a physical form signed by a doctor within the last year.
School facilities are equipped with cardiac arrest kits, and while athletic trainers do not have to be present, all coaches hold a current CPR certificate.
Coaches say they stress to their athletes the importance of stopping and alerting a coach if they feel unwell.
"This is every coach's nightmare," ninth-year Gaithersburg head coach Kreg Kephart said. "Your heart just goes out to the coaching staff, who must be second-guessing themselves, but it's just a tremendous misfortune. … We're not in that old-school, drill instructor mentality where we run them til they drop. Those days are gone."
But some coaches say that it can be difficult to reach players with that message; especially those who feel they are competing with teammates for playing time.
Recent Seneca Valley graduate Joe Rankin, who plans to play college football in the fall, said he sympathized with Miller's family and friends, but "it doesn't really give me a pause" in terms of his workout schedule. Rankin said that he had experienced dizziness and headaches during workouts, but did not stop.
"It's football, you know?" Rankin said. "Your body is going to want to be quitting, but you can't allow your body to tell you what to do. You've got to be mentally strong. When it happened to me in the past, I didn't stop, I kept going — just not as hard."
Heckman, who described himself as a close friend of Maradei's, said he "would stake his life" that the first-year Northwest coach did not do anything "to put kids in harm's way."
"Kids have got to be made to feel — if they're anklebiters, or 18-year-old high school players, or 35-year-old pros — they have to know when something doesn't feel right," Heckman said. "They've got to get over that old football mentality."