Dad says son who died in practice ‘pushed himself too hard'

Death closely followed that of Fitzgerald High football player

The father of Locust Grove High School football player Forest Jones, who died Tuesday night after passing out a week ago at a voluntary workout, said his son loved the game and "pushed himself too hard."

“He wanted to do it for me, so that when I got older he could take care of me,” Glenn Jones said Wednesday.

Jones, 16, was the second Georgia player to die on Tuesday, following the death of a South Georgia student at a football camp, and officials are trying to determine the effects of hot weather on both players.

Fitzgerald High School defensive lineman DJ Searcy died Tuesday morning after practice at a camp in northern Florida. The 16-year-old was found unresponsive in his cabin, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Jones, an offensive lineman, never regained consciousness after passing out last Monday. Doctors believe that he may have had a heat stroke or heat exhaustion, according to his father.

Glenn Jones said his son wanted to be a professional football player since he was 10 years old, and worked hard to achieve that goal.

“I just want to get a message to all these kids out there,” said Forest’s grieving father, “that your body tells you when it needs to rest. Listen to your body, tell your coaches, tell your parents.”

Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield gave a brief statement to the AJC on Wednesday, saying the season would be dedicated to Forest Jones.

"He was a model young man, a hard worker, and never gave us any problems at all. He was just a great kid. It’s a tragedy.”

Until Tuesday, there had not been a heat-related death for a high school football player in Georgia in five years, according to the Georgia High School Association.

The GHSA is the state’s governing body for high school athletics. It mandated that all member schools develop their own heat policies after the death of Rockdale County football player Tyler L. Davis after a voluntary workout Aug. 1, 2006.

The GHSA also recommended the use of a heat-index rating or wet-bulb temperature to determine whether practices should be held or modified because of grueling temperatures.

Jones collapsed last week at a voluntary workout, which is not governed by GHSA rules and policies. Most high school football teams have voluntary workouts for weightlifting, conditioning drills and 7-on-7 passing tournaments in June and July.

The GHSA’s first official day for football practice in helmets and pads was Monday.

“[Our heat policy] does not address voluntary football workouts over the summer, although we do encourage that schools do this,” GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said. “In fact, it is my understanding that Locust Grove High School takes a wet-bulb reading before every one of the voluntary workouts over the summer, including the one where the young man went down.”

The GHSA may develop a stricter and more uniform heat policy in the near future. University of Georgia researchers are in the final stages of a three-year study on heat risks associated with high school athletics.

“They’ve got 30 high schools around the state with state-of-the-art equipment, and they have trainers that are taking readings every 15 minutes, starting before practice until after practice — and then they keep up with any heat-related issues that come up during practice,” Swearngin said.

“When that study is over, we’ll have hard and fast data that will maybe cause us to change our policy,” he said.

More than 32,000 high school students participate in football each year in Georgia. The news about the two players at Fitzgerald and Locust Grove has caused a lot of grief, sadness and confusion in the state’s inner circles for football.

“It’s tragic and it’s sad,” Swearngin said. “When we try to find a solution to a problem like this, we get a little confused or we don’t know exactly what to do. There so many different factors when dealing with this type of situation. There are thousands of kids under the same conditions and nothing happens to them.

“It’s tragic and bad, but we really can’t take strong measures when it doesn’t affect everybody. So many times when a tragedy like this occurs, so many people want an immediate stop to all activities. And what keeps us from doing that is so many kids under the very same conditions have no negative effects.

“We’re going to find out as much information [about the two situations] as we can and go from there.”

At least three metro school systems, Cobb, Cherokee, and Henry Wednesday canceled all outdoor activities between the hours of noon and 6 p.m.

-- Staff writers Christian Boone, Angel K. Brooks, Fran Jeffries and Bo Emerson contributed to this article.

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