Prep Rally

Prep football player found dead in school wrestling mats, family fear he may have been murdered

Tragedy struck in Valdosta, Georgia when a popular high school football player was found dead, trapped in a rolled-up, tubular wrestling mat in the school’s gymnasium.

As reported by Georgia NBC and ABC affiliate WALB and USA Today, among other sources, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, a sophomore at Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High, was discovered dead in the school’s gymnasium. He was found trapped inside a wrestling or cheerleading mat, though no one knows precisely how he got there.

Initial autopsy results led officials to proclaim that the teen’s tragic death was an accident, possibly caused by a piece of clothing falling inside the rolled mats and Johnson failing to make it out of the mats after trying to retrieve it. Yet that explanation hasn’t convinced Johnson’s father, who fears that his son may have been murdered and left in the rolled mats to be discovered later.

"He was last seen third block going to fourth block, he was seen no more,” Kenneth Johnson told WALB. “Then again, I want to express how did my son go missing during school hours in broad daylight? We know our son was murdered while he was at Lowndes High School. We do know that.”

While that assertion may be a bit strong, Johnson’s death sent a major shock wave through the small Georgia city, regardless of cause. Family members and others from the community held a vigil for the teen’s memory on Wednesday.

"How can you go on when you have a beloved child who wakes up everybody in the house and makes a laugh out of everything, how can you go on?” Kenneth Johnson told WALB. “It’s hard.”

Want more on the best stories in high school sports? Visit RivalsHigh or connect with Prep Rally on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.