A La Salle College High School football player collapsed and died after practice on Friday.

Isaiah Turner, a 17-year-old senior lineman, was rushed by paramedics to Chestnut Hill Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to Chris Carabello, La Salle’s director of marketing and public relations.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Turner, who also played on the Explorers’ basketball team, was a top athlete with an engaging personality who was admired by everyone around the all-boys’ school in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, Carabello said.

“He was a joy,” Carabello said. “He was one of those kids who knew he was loved at La Salle. He was loved by the kids, loved by the coaches, loved by the faculty. He was a tough kid not to love.”

La Salle president Brother James Butler referred to Turner as a “gentle giant” who was held in high esteem by the entire school community.

“He was the stereotypical gentle giant – a big kid with a winning smile and gentle ways,” Butler said.

Turner was honored during a memorial service Saturday around the Lourdes Grotto outside the school, where his teammates and coaches and others in the school community gathered with members of Turner’s family, including his mother and grandfather.

“You could just see how much he meant to his teammates,” Butler said. “It was really moving.”

La Salle senior lineman Ryan Wills said Turner was one of the most popular players on the team.

“He was such a happy kid,” Wills said. “Everybody called him a ’gentle giant.’ He was so big he could barely fit through the doorway, and then he was the nicest kid.”

Turner complained to a teammate of a “a pain or a cramp” in his leg after an early-afternoon practice, according to La Salle coach John Steinmetz.

Turner requested that a teammate run ahead and bring a car closer to the field. When the teammate returned, Turner had collapsed.

Carabello said paramedics were called, and Turner was rushed to the hospital. Carabello said the cause of death was unknown pending an autopsy.

Butler said Turned died of a “catastrophic medical event.” He stressed his belief that the event was unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak.

The school had started classes on a hybrid plan in late August. The football team had been holding workouts on a regular basis for most of the summer.

La Salle's Isaiah Turner (right) celebrates with teammates after defeating Malvern Prep, 24-13, on Sept. 7, 2019.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
La Salle's Isaiah Turner (right) celebrates with teammates after defeating Malvern Prep, 24-13, on Sept. 7, 2019.

Turner, who lived in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, was a starting defensive tackle for the La Salle football team during the 2019 season, when the Explorers went 8-3. Turner was projected to play offensive guard this season since the team needed him at that spot and that was likely to be his position in college.

“He was like, ’Anything for the team, coach,’” Steinmetz said.

The coach believed Turner would have earned a scholarship from an NCAA Division 2 or lower-level Division 1 college program.

“He would have played somewhere,” Steinmetz said. “He was a good student too, and that would have opened some doors.”

Steinmetz said Turner’s work ethic stood out on the football field.

“He was the kind of kid who during sprints at the end of practice was always trying to be first,” Steinmetz said. “He would even try to beat the skill guys at sprints.”

La Salle has tentative plans to play football this fall despite complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Butler said there have been “no discussions” about changing the school’s plans to move forward with football. La Salle is projected as one of the stronger teams in the area, with the national sports website MaxPreps placing the team at the No. 11 spot in its preseason Top 25 for Pennsylvania, behind only St. Joseph’s Prep, Northeast, and Archbishop Wood among teams in the southeastern section of the state.

“We’re going to honor him,” Wills said of Turner.

Malvern Prep coach Dave Gueriera, whose team played La Salle last season, expressed his sympathy for the La Salle community and Turner’s family.

“So very sorry to hear this heart-breaking news,” Gueriera said.

Neumann Goretti football coach Albie Crosby was shocked.

“It’s a nightmare,” Crosby said. “Our thoughts and prayers at Neumann Goretti go out to the La Salle family and to the young man’s family.”