Mississippi State football player dies at 18; cause of death unknown

Mississippi State football player Sam Westmoreland has died at the age of 18, the university announced Wednesday.

By Des Bieler

(Michael Clubb/AP)

The cause of Westmoreland’s death and the circumstances surrounding it are not yet publicly known. MSU said it is working with the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices in Oktibbeha County, as well as with campus officials, to “determine the facts of this incident” and would not comment further until it gathered more information.

According to the county sheriff’s office, via the Clarion Ledger, deputies responded to a call at 11 a.m. Wednesday and found Westmoreland dead outside of a Starkville church located approximately four miles east of MSU’s campus. No foul play is suspected by the sheriff’s office, the newspaper reported, and no further details were immediately provided.

Westmoreland was two days shy of his 19th birthday, per his Bulldogs profile.

A native of Tupelo, Miss., Westmoreland was a freshman offensive lineman listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He had yet to appear in a game for the 5-2 Bulldogs.

“The Mississippi State Athletics Family is heartbroken by the sudden death of Sam Westmoreland,” Coach Mike Leach said in a statement. “Sam was a beloved son, brother and teammate, and a tremendous young man with a limitless future. He will always be remembered and deeply missed by everyone who knew and loved him. The entire MSU Family mourns as our thoughts and prayers go out to the Westmoreland family. Our highest priority is the support of the Westmoreland family and our student-athletes during this troubling time.”

“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,” MSU President Mark E. Keenum said in a statement. “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.”

Westmoreland could be counted on to brighten the days of others, his former coach at Tupelo High said.

“One of my memories of Sam is that he was always smiling,” Trent Hammond, who coached Westmoreland in 2020, told the Clarion Ledger. “It didn’t matter what was going on at practice or what. When he showed up at the field house he was always with a smile. He greeted you with a smile every day.”

The current head coach at Tupelo, Ty Hardin, echoed that remembrance.

In a statement the high school shared online, Hardin said: “Sam was a fantastic young man, brother and teammate. He was a leader and his positivity was like no other. His teammates and coaches viewed Sam as a ray of sunshine with a contagious smile. He was even voted a team captain his senior year. His leadership and impact on our program will be carried on forever.”

The Bulldogs are scheduled to play at Alabama on Saturday.

“We’re really saddened to hear the passing of one of Mississippi State’s players, Sam Westmoreland,” Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said at a news conference Wednesday. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to he, his family, his friends, the Mississippi State football team. This is terrible that a young person is not going to be able to enjoy a successful life.”

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