Central Florida wide receiver Ereck Plancher was showing signs of distress during a team workout before he collapsed and later died, four UCF players told the Orlando Sentinel.
Plancher, 19, of Naples, Fla., collapsed and was taken to a hospital on March 18. He was pronounced dead a half-hour after the workout, known as a "mat drill."
The players, speaking on condition they remain anonymous, told the newspaper that the practice was more intense than the basic conditioning workout described by UCF officials in the immediate wake of Plancher's death.
But Central Florida coach George O'Leary and members of his staff disputed aspects of the four players' stories.
"I did not see him struggle on the field," O'Leary said of Plancher the morning he died, according to the report. "From my professional opinion, what should have been done for his care was being done."
In the report, the players said the workout in UCF's indoor field house, which followed an hour-long weight training session, included multiple agility exercises lasting five minutes each, two runs on a 200-yard obstacle course and two sideline-to-sideline sprints. They said Plancher fell during the final sprint, as coaches yelled at him to finish the drill.
"Everybody was struggling at times," one player said of the workout, according to the Sentinel. "But he [Ereck] was running, and I could tell something wasn't right. His eyes got real dark, and he was squinting like he was blinded by the sun. He was making this moaning noise, trying to breathe real hard."
"Ereck took off running about five yards and fell. The coaches were yelling at him to get up, and of course he came in last," one player said, according to the report.
After the workout, the team huddled in the middle of the field, where O'Leary singled out Plancher for a lack of effort during the final sprint, the four players said, according to the report.
All four players told the newspaper that O'Leary said to Plancher, "That's a bunch of [expletive] out of you, son," in the huddle.
O'Leary denied cursing at Plancher but recalled telling people around him, "He's better than that," according to the report.
One of the players said that even as Plancher was being cursed out, he was still trying to catch his breath.
"Ereck was in the back when O'Leary was yelling at him, but Ereck couldn't even look at him," one of the players said, according to the Sentinel. "He was trying to catch his breath the whole time, and he never could."
The players said Plancher was noticeably woozy and staggering as he tried to take part in the final jumping-jacks drill, according to the report. It was after that exercise and a final team huddle that Plancher collapsed while walking away, the players said.
O'Leary told the Sentinel that after he broke the huddle, "the next thing I saw, I turned, I saw the trainer with Ereck. Robert Jackson was the trainer there. I went over, and Ereck was just taking a knee. I asked, 'Did you have breakfast?'"
But one player who took part in the workout said Plancher "was already not responding," according to the report.
O'Leary told the newspaper that trainers and the wide receivers coach tried to give Plancher water, then his teammates carried him outside to await an ambulance while UCF trainers began CPR, called 911 and attached an automated external defibrillator.
UCF police officers arrived at 10:52 a.m. to find Plancher unconscious and lying on a bench. He was taken to Florida Hospital East and pronounced dead at 11:51 a.m.
The four players told the Sentinel they came forward after UCF athletic director Keith Tribble, speaking the afternoon of Plancher's death, initially described the workout as a 10-minute, 26-second session with a weights component. A week later, associate AD David Chambers clarified Tribble's statement, saying the workout lasted about 20 minutes.
"We were acting on the best information we had available in the hours immediately after Ereck's death," UCF spokesman Grant Heston told the newspaper. "Subsequently, we learned that the workout was lengthier than we originally believed."
According to several of Plancher's relatives and friends and his high school coach in Naples, the wide receiver said in the spring of 2007 that he had collapsed during an earlier UCF workout.
"He told me he was having a hard time with the workouts and had even passed out once," Lely High School coach Chris Metzger told the Sentinel. "That was unusual for him because he was in great shape. I asked him if the team had checked him out, and he said they did. He said they told him everything was fine, so I told him to keep working at it and everything would be OK."
Ereck's father, Enock, said he had never heard of his son having health problems at UCF. "He was in perfect health," he told the newspaper. "He never even got sick or had a cold."