Former Coaches, Teammates Honor NFL Prospect AJ Simon After Sudden Death: ‘A Tremendous Player'

The University of Albany announced Amitral "AJ" Simon had died Wednesday. He was 25.

<p>Amitral Simon/Instagram</p> Amitral "AJ" Simon

Amitral Simon/Instagram

Amitral "AJ" Simon

Tributes for the late college football standout and NFL Draft prospect Amitral “AJ” Simon continued to pour out on social media April 18, as former teammates and coaches learn of his death.

The University of Albany announced Simon’s death on April 17, eight days before he was hoping to hear his name called at the NFL Draft.

Simon was 25 years old. His cause of death was not immediately known.

The Pennsylvania native was a remarkable high school football player at Pocono Mountain West High School before attending the in-state Bloomsburg University, where he continued to excel on the field before transferring to continue his career at Albany.

Bloomsburg’s football program said it was “saddened to hear” about Simon’s death on Thursday.

“AJ was not only a tremendous player, but an even better teammate and person,” Simon’s former football program wrote in a statement on social media. “He was a role model during his time here at Bloomsburg and will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him.”

Albany echoed that statement in sharing the news of his death on Wednesday.

“The UAlbany football program was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former student-athlete Amitral ‘AJ’ Simon this morning,” the statement read. “He was a tremendous young man and even better teammate throughout his time at UAlbany.”

The Albany football program said Simon was "a role model both on and off the field" who served "as a pillar to this program over the last two years."

"He will be profoundly missed," the team added.

Related: Albany Football Star AJ Simon Dead at 25, 1 Week Before NFL Draft

<p>Amitral Simon/Instagram</p> Amitral "AJ" Simon

Amitral Simon/Instagram

Amitral "AJ" Simon

Simon’s former Albany head coach Greg Gattuso warmly recalled having “two joyous years coaching and becoming friends with AJ Simon” in his own tribute post on Wednesday afternoon.

“My prayers are dedicated to the Simon family,” Gattuso wrote. “I love you AJ and will always have a special place in my heart for #8.”

Several of Simon’s former teammates from Bloomsburg and Albany shared their reactions, tributes, and memories on social media, as well.

Former Albany teammate Anton Juncaj, who once described Simon as his “best friend,” according to The Times Union, wrote an emotional tribute to Simon on his Instagram Stories on Thursday.

"“All you ever did was make sure I was straight and u was always there for me when I needed anything,” Juncaj wrote. “I’m going to continue what we was just talking about. I love you Big Bro.”

Juncaj included a large heart emoji over the top of a photo of him and Simons smiling together.

<p>Amitral Simon/Instagram</p> Amitral "AJ" Simon

Amitral Simon/Instagram

Amitral "AJ" Simon

Another close friend and former Bloomsburg teammate, Shawn Page Jr., paid tribute to Simon on Instagram. “Got the whole world posting you,” Simon’s former teammate wrote. “Really made a name for yaself champ. Prada you.”

Jue Hicks, a former Albany teammate, wrote “Love you bro” with a sad faced emoji and a black and white memorial post to Simon in his Instagram Stories. Hicks followed up with another post that showed him standing on the University of Albany sideline, arm in arm with Simon, writing, “See you again bro. Gone finished dis fa us.”

Jared Verse, who played with Simon at Albany before transferring to Florida State, also mourned Simon’s death on his Instagram Stories. “We was just talking a few days ago…,” Verse wrote alongside a memorial for his former teammate.

“Was just [on the phone] with you literally on Monday!” former teammate Trent Pennix wrote on Instagram Stories. “Rest easy big man!”

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Taylor O'Connor, the team's director of digital content and communications shared in a memorial post on X that Simon would "text me for cool edits after the season ended and he started prepping for the NFL Draft."

"[He] was always so kind & appreciative of everything I sent him,” O' Connor recalled. “I joked with him, 'Don’t forget about me when you make it to the NFL!' He laughed and said 'Never!' “

<p>Amitral Simon/Instagram</p> Amitral "AJ" Simon

Amitral Simon/Instagram

Amitral "AJ" Simon

Simon was a 2023 All-CAA first-team defensive selection, Phil Steele All-CAA first-team selection, and FCS Football Central First Team All-American honoree during his career at Albany, while also being named a part of the 2023 Fall CAA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll.

The 6-foot-1, 267-pound defensive lineman recorded 12.5 sacks and 55 tackles during his final year in college, drawing the attention of NFL scouts. After Albany’s “Pro Day” showcase for NFL scouts, Gattuso said he “could see AJ Simon sneaking into a round late,” The Times Union reported.

Simon also felt positive about his NFL prospects in recent weeks.

“The scouts are saying some positive things,” Simon said after the late March workout, according to the newspaper. “You just never know. It’s time to play the waiting game. Just stay in shape. My chances (of being drafted), I feel like they’re pretty high.”

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