He was a leader with big dreams and a passion for playing football. Zyrees Oliver wanted to be the best, and he also wanted the best for his family and friends.
But early Monday, Zyrees died after being removed from a ventilator five days after collapsing at his home. As his classmates returned Monday morning to Douglas County High School, his family was making plans to return Zyrees to his home state of New Jersey. He was 17.
Late Sunday, Zyrees’ family faced the heartbreaking decision of removing the ventilator, an aunt told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There was no longer hope for the teen’s recovery, Nina Oliver said.
“He’s already in heaven,” Oliver said late Sunday.
Zyrees had remained in critical condition since collapsing at home late Tuesday, hours after football practice at school. In the hours before he was supposed to start his first day of his senior year of high school Wednesday, he was rushed to the hospital from his Douglasville home. Zyrees was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then to WellStar Kennestone, where he remained late Sunday with family members by his side.
“It’s incomprehensible,” Nina Oliver said. “We had a healthy, beautiful, vibrant young man.”
A standout on the field and in the classroom, Zyrees had a 3.8 GPA and hoped to play college football, according to friends and family. His classmates were shocked to learn of his illness, and wore team colors and held a prayer circle at school Friday.
“He was one of the leaders on the team,” Joshua Sams, a sophomore teammate, said Thursday night. “He made sure we were doing what we were supposed to be doing and not slacking.”
Zyrees died around 1 a.m. Monday, Douglas County Coroner Randy Daniel said. Principal Tim Scott informed students of Zyrees’ death on Monday and said grief counselors are at the school.
“Zyrees was part of the Tiger Family since the end of his sophomore year, but during that short time he touched many lives,” Scott said in an emailed statement. “Zyrees was a blessing to his football and track teammates, his classmates, coaches and our school staff.”
Nina Oliver said her younger sister had moved to Georgia a year ago with her sons for a fresh start. Zyrees quickly made friends and earned the respect of his teammates.
“He was absolutely a born leader,” Oliver said. “Zyrees was just the type of person that would do anything in the world for you. He was just the most respectful kid you ever wanted to meet.”
Zyrees had medical issues in recent months, including cramping, dehydration and migraines, according to his family. While it is not yet known what caused him to collapse, his loved ones said they suspect Zyrees over-hydrated after practice, drinking two gallons of water and two gallons of Gatorade.
“He was never sick. Never,” his aunt said.
Doctors have told the teen’s family that he suffered massive swelling around his brain, family members said. An autopsy will be conducted by the GBI to determine his cause of death, Daniel said.
The family is hoping to raise money to return Zyrees to New Jersey, where he'll be buried. A fund-raising page has been created on the GoFundMe website in his honor.
“I don’t how we will ever get through this, but we’re going to honor his memory every chance we can,” Oliver said.
In addition to his parents, Zyrees is survived by three brothers.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com