Lucas, 26, suffered apparent spinal cord injury

LOS ANGELES -- 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.

Calls to a California Hospital spokesman were not returned.

"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 told the Daily News of Los Angeles. "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 newspaper.

The 6-foot-1, 300-pound lineman played two seasons (2000-01) for the Carolina Panthers, making 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, where he graduated in 1996.

"All his professional experience he freely gave," Northeast defensive coordinator Lance Perlman told the Macon Telegraph. "We're going to have to tell the kids, and they're going to take it hard. He wanted to be a teacher and coach after he was done playing football, and he wanted to do it at Northeast."

Several NFL players have died shortly after games, though no one has been declared dead on the field.

Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes died from a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1971. Hughes entered late in the fourth quarter and ran a deep route over the middle. As he headed back to the huddle, he collapsed.

Washington Redskins tackle Dave Sparks and Chicago Cardinals tackle Stan Mauldin died of heart attacks after games. Sparks died in 1954 three hours after a game, while Mauldin collapsed in the locker room in 1948.

In 1963, Kansas City running back Stone Johnson died 10 days after he broke his neck blocking on a kickoff return in an exhibition game. In 1960, New York Titans tackle Howard Glenn died within hours after breaking his neck.

Two college football players died from neck-related injuries in the past 15 years. Mississippi defensive back Chucky Mullins died 18 months after he was paralyzed during a tackle in 1989. Washington defensive back Curtis Williams sustained a similar injury in 2000 and died in 2002.