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Al Lucas Dies in Arena Football Accident

Al Lucas, a star at Troy State and former Carolina Panther, died yesterday from injuries sustained in an Arena Football League game.

Avengers player dies from injury sustained in game” (AP)

Photo: Al Lucas played two seasons for the NFL's Carolina Panthers before moving to the Arena League. (AP) Former NFL defensive lineman Al Lucas died Sunday from a presumed spinal cord injury sustained while trying to make a tackle for the Los Angeles Avengers during an Arena Football League game, the team said. Lucas was pronounced dead at California Hospital after attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, team physician Dr. Luga Podesta said in a statement. An autopsy was planned for Monday or Tuesday, the county coroner’s office said.

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“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Al Lucas. At this time, the thoughts and prayers of the entire Avenger organization are with his wife and family,” team owner and chief executive officer Casey Wasserman said in a statement.

The 26-year-old Lucas was injured during a first-quarter kickoff return against the New York Dragons. Television replays showed Lucas bending down to make a tackle. The Dragons’ ball carrier and a blocker tumbled over his head and back, with the blocker’s leg appearing to hit Lucas in the head. Lucas did not move after falling to the ground. “There’s nothing you can say about what happened,” Avengers lineman Sean McNamara was quoted as telling the Los Angeles Daily News. “It never entered our minds as a possibility. You think about his family and his daughter and hope they’ll be all right.” “When you’ve got a player lying on the ground the only thing that goes through your mind is that it could be any of us out there,” fullback Lonnie Ford told the Daily News.

The 6-foot-1, 300-pound lineman played two seasons (2000-01) for the Carolina Panthers, recording 49½ tackles in 20 games. He attended Troy State from 1996-99 and won the Buck Buchanan Award his senior season as the top defensive player in Division I-AA. In 43 games at Troy State he had 255 tackles and 11½ sacks. He was selected to the Arena League’s All-Rookie team in 2003 while playing for Tampa Bay. “Al Lucas played arena football with passion and integrity. The entire AFL family extends its deepest sympathies to Al’s wife and family as well as his friends, family and teammates,” commissioner David Baker said in a statement.

Lucas, of Macon, Ga., was married to De’Shonda Lucas and had a daughter, Mariah. During the Arena League offseason, Lucas worked as an assistant coach at Macon’s Northeast High School, from which he graduated in 1996.

Al was a student in an American government class I taught during my first quarter at Troy State University. He was a solid student with an air of maturity and decency about him. This is sad news, indeed.

via Steven Taylor and Clint Ellis.

Jeff Quinton and Erick-Woods Erickson also have coverage.

Some background information in the Extended Entry.

Troy State’s Al Lucas wins Buchanan Award

Photo: Troy State's Al Lucas wins Buchanan Award, Sports Network Troy State nose tackle Al Lucas was named the fifth winner of the Buck Buchanan Award [in 1999] at the Division I-AA College Football Awards ceremony held at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant in New York. Lucas, a senior, is the first player from the Southland Football League to win the Buchanan Award, which is presented annually by The Sports Network to the most outstanding defensive player in Division I-AA college football. In 11 regular-season games in 1999, Lucas recorded 126 tackles. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound nose tackle made 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and also notched four sacks. He also recorded 15 quarterback hurries.

“It is an honor just to be mentioned as a finalist,” said Lucas. “I give thanks to the Lord for giving me the ability to play the game. I give thanks to my parents and brother Lenny for their support, nurturing and guidance. I would also like to thank Coaches (Larry) Blakeney, (DL coach Tracy) Rocker and (Def. Coord. Wayne) Bolt for everything they did. Without all these mentioned, I could not be where I am today.”

Lucas, a Macon, Georgia native, is the key person on an intimidating defensive unit. The Trojans finished the regular season with the 13th-rated defense in Division I-AA. Troy State allowed 286.0 yards per game, and was ranked 10th against the run, allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game.

Troy State finished the regular season with a 10-1 record and a number-six ranking in The Sports Network Division I-AA Top 25 poll. The Trojans also won their second Southland title with a 6-1 league mark.

“When you watch a player learn and grow for four years, it’s special whether it’s the greatest football player in the history of the school, or someone who is basically on special teams or doesn’t get to play but for a handful of snaps during his career,” said Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney. “Al certainly ranks among the best players at Troy State. He has tremendous athletic ability, but his work ethic is what made him the player that deserves this honor. Al also ranks among the best people at Troy State, which is a credit to his family. That is where a coach gets his greatest satisfaction, watching the player grow as a person. He is truly special.”

Besides being a force on the defensive line, Lucas also adds a little flair to the offense. He has been used as a short-yardage running back for the past two seasons. In his career, Lucas rushed 21 times for 39 yards and seven touchdowns.

Lucas is just the fourth player to receive the Buchanan Award. Current Dallas Cowboy linebacker Dexter Coakley (Appalachian State) won the accolade in 1995 and 1996. North Carolina A&T’s Chris McNeil won the award in 1997, while James Milton (Western Illinois) was last year’s recipient.

Lucas received 12 first-place votes and 144 points from the panel of 75 Division I-AA media and sports information directors. Following Lucas in the voting was: Massachusetts linebacker Kole Ayi; Tennessee State defensive end Lamar Carter; Youngstown State linebacker Ian Dominelli; and Western Illinois linebacker Edgerton Hartwell. The Buchanan Award was established in 1995 by The Sports Network.

Los Angeles Avengers player profile:

Photo: Al Lucas -#76 Los Angeles AvengersPROFILE: Al Lucas, who won the ArenaBowl as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Storm in 2003 and has two years of NFL experience, returns for his second year as the cornerstone of the Avenger frontline. Last season, he played in all 16 games and led all Avenger offensive/defensive linemen with 18.5 tackles. Lucas also had three quarterback sacks, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), two batted down passes, a forced fumble and a safety in his first year with the Avengers. After displaying tremendous ability as an All-Rookie performer in 2003, he was the most sought after AFL free agents before signing a three-year deal with the Avengers on Oct. 27, 2003. Lucas played in 13 games for Tampa Bay in 2003, recording 19.5 tackles, three for losses, 1.5 sacks, a blocked kick and a safety. He helped lead the Storm to a 12-4 record and a 43-29 victory over Arizona in ArenaBowl XVII. Lucas is under contract with Los Angeles through the 2006 season.

NFL: Lucas played in 20 games for the Carolina Panthers over the course of the 2000 and 2001 NFL seasons, totaling 49.5 tackles, three “quarterback hurries,” two batted down passes, a forced fumble and a sack. He was selected by the Frankfurt Galaxy with the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Europe free agent draft, but chose instead to begin his AFL career with the Tampa Bay Storm.

COLLEGE: Lucas was a collegiate standout at Troy (Ala.) State University. As a senior in 1999, he won the “Buck Buchanan Award,” which is given to the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division I-AA defensive player. Lucas also earned unanimous All-America and All-Southland Football League first-team honors for the Trojans after making 126 tackles (20 for losses), 15 “quarterback hurries,” four sacks and two forced fumbles. In his 43-game career at Troy State, he finished with 255 tackles (36 for losses), 25 quarterback hurries and 11.5 sacks. In addition to his exploits on defense, Lucas was used as a short-yardage running back in his final two seasons with the Trojans and scored seven touchdowns.

HIGH SCHOOL: Lucas attended Northeast High School (Macon, Ga.), where he set a school record with a 440-pound bench press.

PERSONAL: Born in Macon, Ga. ¦ nickname is “Big Luke” ¦ earned degree in criminal justice from Troy State¦ is an assistant football coach at Northeast High School (Macon, Ga.).

Son of Macon leaders killed in football accident (Macon Telegraph)

Former Northeast High School football star Al Lucas died Sunday in Los Angeles from a presumed spinal cord injury sustained during an Arena Football League game, according to officials from the Los Angeles Avengers and published reports. Lucas, the 26-year-old son of state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, and Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, was trying to make a tackle in the first quarter of Sunday’s game during a kickoff return against the New York Dragons.

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Steve Edwards, who coached Lucas during his playing days at Northeast, had fond memories of Lucas as a player and a person. “Al was a super kid,” Edwards said. “He loved football. He grew up in an athletically- and politically-based childhood. He was a super person and a super athlete. Obviously, this is a very, very tragic incident. I would certainly like to extend my condolences to his family.” Edwards spoke to Lucas several weeks ago. “I spoke with Al at a Northeast basketball game, and we reminisced about the good times,” Edwards said. “We had a very good person-to-person conversation. He was a very solid human being.”

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Bibb County athletics director Raynette Evans remembered Lucas for his gentility. “He was so wonderful,” she said. “He volunteered his time and expertise, which was tremendous for our young men. … He had a lot of credibility with our kids, and not just the Northeast students. Anytime he was in one of our athletic arenas, the football players from many schools would talk to him. “I watched him in middle school (Appling) and high school. I’m shocked and stunned; you never expect to see it with someone you know. I started to think of him not on the football field but when he played basketball. That huge body was extremely intimidating, but he was so gentle. On the field he was as aggressive as you want in a player, but off the field he was what you would call a gentle giant.”

An online condolence book is available here.

Update (1842): Coroners Defer Decision on What Caused Death of L.A. Football Player (LAT)

Coroners in Los Angeles today deferred a decision on the cause of death of Al Lucas, who became only the second professional football player to die during a game. Lucas, a lineman for the Los Angeles Avengers, died after trying to make a tackle early in the Arena Football League team’s game at Staples Center on Sunday, team officials said today. “The cause of death is pending until we can get a precise neuropathology diagnosis,” Lt. Cheryl MacWillie, a spokesperson, said today . “There is a spinal chord injury,” MacWillie said, declining further comment. Procedurally, such a delay is not unusual. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office stated that more time will be needed to run routine tests

Meanwhile, students in Macon, Ga., where Lucas was a popular coach at Northeast High School in the off-season, were in shock as word of Lucas’ death spread. “The students loved him,” said Alvin Copeland, the athletic director at the school who taught Lucas when he was a student and hired him to coach. “Football players I talked to this morning said he talked to them about being young men, not just about sports,” Copeland said. “He was a real leader, and a real role model.”

Lucas, 26, was injured on a kickoff return five minutes into the game against the New York Dragons. He was pronounced dead at California Hospital Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles after attempts to revive him at the arena and hospital failed.

He is the first player in the league’s 20-year history to die during a game. A few National Football League players have died shortly after games, but Detroit Lion receiver Chuck Hughes, who suffered a heart attack in the fourth quarter of a 1971 game, is believed to be the only one to die during a game.

In Macon today, Copeland said the atmosphere among the high school’s 900 students was subdued. “The mood of the students is down because of it,” Copeland said. “Everybody is kind of sad.” Copeland said Lucas, a long-time Macon resident whose father also attended the high school, was his student. “Al was always kind of a jokester when he was in my class. He loved to have fun. But he was also a real good leader of students,” Copeland said. For several years, Lucas played professionally with the Carolina Panthers, but he would always come back to his high school alma mater to help out, Copeland said. “It looks like a freak accident,” Copeland said of the tragedy. “It didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. It looked like his body got twisted.”

In Los Angeles, Avenger players and staff, as well as Dragon players, were informed of Lucas’ death after the game, creating a tearful scene in the corridors outside the locker room, with players and employees leaving the arena dazed by the news. “I just wish this was a bad dream,” Avenger receiver Tony Locke said. “I want it to be over.”

[...]

Teammates and friends were devastated by the sudden tragedy. “You see a player on the ground, you realize that could be any of us laying there,” Avenger running back Lonnie Ford said, wiping away tears. “My heart goes out to his wife and kid and brothers. I just can’t explain how I feel.”

[...]

Chris Jackson, who played with Lucas on the Avengers last season, said he received updates throughout the day from his wife. She attended Sunday’s game, which was televised locally. “We used to go to Bible study together,” said Jackson, now playing for the AFL’s Georgia Force. “It’s just a terrible tragedy. Something like this is completely out of our minds as a worst-case scenario. A season-ending injury or career-ending injury, but never this. Never, never this.”

[...]

A former teammate said Lucas made a lasting impression during his short NFL career. “You definitely would never forget a guy like that,” said Carolina defensive lineman Mike Rucker.
Rucker recalled that one time a skinny receiver came through the locker room and Lucas shouted, “Get that man something to eat, man.” The remark became the defensive line’s catchphrase that season. “He was a great dude, always playing around, always a kid at heart,” Rucker said.

Lucas maintained that sense of humor with the Avengers and had many admirers among his teammates. “He was the guy everyone went to,” Locke said. “He was the first guy I met when I came out here. He cared about everybody.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Al’s Mom is a powerful City Councilwoman in Macon, GA and his dad is in the State General Assembly. He’ll certainly be missed in these parts.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    I’d actually forgotten that his dad was a politician. I didn’t realize his mom was, too.

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  3. AL Lucas, RIP
    From Troy State University and Carolina Panther defensive lineman, Al Lucas, died Sunday as the result of injuries sustained in an AFL game: Arena Football Avengers player dies from injury sustained in game:Former NFL defensive lineman Al Lucas died S…

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  4. Mike Cunningham says:

    I coached at Troy STate when Al and his brother where on the track teams there. I coached his brother Lennie in the hurdles.

    I was shocked and stunned to learn of Al’s passing. He was always a gentle giant off the field and an unbelievable athlete on it.

    I thank Al for all the wonderful memories he has provided me and everyone he has ever come in contact with.

    My prayers go out to the Lucas family. The world has lost one of the truly great kind people there are left.

    Mike Cunningham
    Mississippi State University
    Track and Field

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  5. Shann Hunt says:

    My husband and I and our sons were at the game on Sunday. When you see an injury on the field, you always assume that the player will be alright. We were so shocked to later hear that Al Lucas had died. I cried when I heard the news.

    My heart goes out to the Lucas family and especially to his 2-year-old daughter. May God bless you all!

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  6. Katrina Hand says:

    Well words dont explain hurt I am over this lost. Mr.Lucas was a wonderful coach and a great sub! He is truely missed by the Northeast Highschool family!!!! I never thought that doing something you love so much and played with such passion could result to this! May God Bless the entire Lucas family!!!!!

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