Tragedy has struck the Mississippi State football team as freshman player Sam Westmoreland was found dead on Wednesday at a church. The student-athlete was an offensive lineman for the MSU Bulldog football team and an industrial technology major. The loss comes on the eve of his 19th birthday.
“One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned while leading this great university is that the tragic loss of one of our students diminishes all of our students — and all of us at Mississippi State feel the impact of Sam Westmoreland’s death,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum in a statement from the university.
BREAKING REPORT: Football Player and Student-athlete at Mississippi State University – 18 YEAR OLD SAM WESTMORELAND DIES SUDDENLY – Sam Would Have Turned 19 Friday..
— Chuck Callesto (@ChuckCallesto) October 20, 2022
“My prayers are with Sam’s family and friends, with his MSU teammates and coaches, and with the Tupelo community during this most difficult time.”
The police reportedly believe there is “no reason to suspect foul play” in Westmoreland’s death.
“Sam was a beloved son, brother and teammate, and a tremendous young man with a limitless future,” MSU head coach Mike Leach said in a statement on Wednesday. “He will always be remembered and deeply missed by everyone who knew and loved him.”
An Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said they discovered the offensive lineman’s body after being called out to Blackjack Missionary Baptist Church in Starkville regarding a death investigation. Police canvassed the scene but cleared it a couple of hours after they arrived.
However, the County Sheriff’s Office officials did not release a cause of death for Westmoreland, saying that a probe into the case is still ongoing.
— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) October 19, 2022
After the news of Sam Westmoreland’s death on Wednesday morning, Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach made practice optional, according to athletics director John Cohen. However, many athletes felt that continuing to compete was the best way to move forward and honor their fallen team mate.
“I was there when he addressed the team before they practiced,” Cohen said on Thursday of MSU’s weekly radio show. “He left it up to the kids and said, ‘If you’re not feeling this, if you need time, you got it.'”
Cohen noted that Coach Leach urged players to utilize available resources, including consulting with mental health care professionals.
“Don’t be too proud to ask for help, because occasionally everybody does need help,” Cohen continued. “They couldn’t find a better way to honor the memory of a really special person,” Cohen added.
I send my condolences to the Westmoreland family. Taught Sam my first 2 years in Tupelo as well as well as coaching him in football. Great teammate and friend who was always their to pick guys up. Sam always had great energy and a great attitude. It was great to see him grow up pic.twitter.com/sDf0vunear
— Coach Tereif Osborne (@Tereif) October 19, 2022
Coach Leach is usually the primary guest on the MSU radio show and was replaced by athletics director Cohen, because Leach has not been made available to the media since the death of Westmoreland.
Unfortunately, for Coach Leach, it is not the first time dealing with the untimely death of a player. While coaching at Washington State, one of his quarterbacks, Tyler Hilinski, died by suicide in January 2018.
Mississippi State hosted its first athletic event since Westmoreland’s death on Thursday when MSU women’s soccer hosted No. 1 Alabama. The players wore white tape on their wrists with Moreland’s No. 78 written in black to support the player. In addition, Westmoreland’s alma mater, Tupelo High School, will be wearing helmet stickers with “SAM” on them.