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Friday, July 18, 2008
Updated: July 19, 7:14 PM ET
UCF says Plancher knew of sickle cell trait that caused death

By Mark Fainaru-Wada
ESPN.com

A 19-year-old University of Central Florida football player whose death resulted from an inherited gene cited in the collapse of several young athletes was aware of his condition and monitored regularly, the school's athletic director said Friday.

Ereck Plancher, a redshirt freshman wide receiver from Naples, Fla., died March 18 following an offseason conditioning session, and the Orange County Medical Examiner ruled Thursday that his death was tied to his carrying the sickle cell trait.

The condition does not preclude athletes from competing, but the National Association of Athletic Trainers (NATA) issued a warning in June 2007 that nine athletes had died since 2000 because of complications related to carrying the trait; NATA set forth a series of precautions for monitoring athletes with the trait.

On Thursday, ESPN.com reported that Plancher had been screened positive for the trait twice in 2007, once in January and again in June. UCF acknowledged its trainers and coaches knew Plancher had the trait, but it offered no details about when it was discovered, what precautions were taken as a result and whether team personnel were aware of the NATA warning.

Athletic director Keith Tribble issued a statement Friday saying UCF had handled the situation properly and would conduct a "comprehensive assessment" of the Medical Examiner's findings.

"We have said repeatedly that Ereck passed all of his physicals and was cleared to participate fully by UCF team physicians," Tribble said. "Our staff advised Ereck of his sickle cell trait and monitored his physical condition at every practice and workout."

UCF coach George O'Leary also released a statement that said, in part, "The health of our student-athletes is our top priority, and we provide superb medical care at UCF. I am confident our medical staff will evaluate this report in detail as part of our ongoing review."

Tribble, O'Leary and additional football personnel declined further comment through a university spokesman. Plancher's parents could not be reached for comment. Several close friends contacted Friday by ESPN said they were unaware Plancher carried the trait.

The Orlando Sentinel, quoting four unnamed UCF players, previously reported that Plancher fell to the ground during sprints at the end of the 20-minute conditioning session on March 18, and that he showed signs of being in distress during the workout.

O'Leary told the paper he didn't see Plancher struggling and his care was handled properly.

Mark Fainaru-Wada is a reporter for ESPN. He can be reached at markfwespn@gmail.com.