Tributes pour in for college football star after mysterious death days before NFL draft

Stephen Nartey April 19, 2024
Photo: X/Greg Gattuso

Former Albany football standout Amitral “AJ” Simon, aged 25, has passed away abruptly, just days before the 2024 NFL draft where he aspired to be chosen.

Simon, a promising defensive lineman, had his sights set on the upcoming draft event slated for next week in Detroit. The cause of his untimely death remains undisclosed.

“The UAlbany football program was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former student-athlete Amitral ‘AJ’ Simon this morning,” Albany said in a statement while confirming his death on Wednesday.

“AJ was a tremendous young man and even better teammate throughout his time at UAlbany. He was a role model both on and off the field, serving as a pillar to this program over the last two years.”

The Tobyhanna-born rising star racked up 55 tackles and 12.5 sacks during the team’s historic triumph in clinching the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) title and advancing to the FCS playoffs semi-finals in 2023, according to Daily Mail.

Simon picked numerous honors, such as being named to the All-CAA first-team defense and the FCS football central first-team All-American. He started his college journey at Bloomsburg University, where he earned recognition as part of the 2021 First Team All-Conference, before spending the last two seasons with Albany.

On Wednesday, Albany coach Greg Gattuso posted on social media: “Two joyous year(s) coaching and becoming friends with AJ Simon. My prayers are dedicated to the Simon family. I love you AJ and will always have a special place in my heart for #8.”

The 6 feet 1 inch lineman who weighs 267 pounds, was described on the school website as the son of Amitral and Felma Simon, with two sisters named Dominque and Doranella.

“Words can’t express who he was, what he meant to so many, and how big his smile was,” added Jared Ambrose, associate head coach at UAlbany. “He brought light to everyone who came across him. Gone too soon but he’s part of us forever.”

In the wake of the devastating announcement, another team official Taylor O’Connor recounted a soul-touching story about Simon’s aspirations of making it to the NFL.

“AJ would text me for cool edits after the season ended and he started prepping for the NFL Draft,” O’Connor wrote on social media.

“(He) was always so kind and appreciative of everything I sent him. I joked with him ‘Don’t forget about me when you make it to the NFL!’ He laughed and said ‘Never!’ Rest easy, 8.”

A few weeks ago, Simon posted a video online disclosing that seven NFL scouts attended Albany’s Pro Day to assess the “pass rush stud.” In a December post, Simon announced his decision to enter the draft.

“It has been an incredible journey here at UAlbany, and I am immensely grateful for the support, guidance, and mentorship provided by the UA staff,” he wrote in a statement. “My time at Albany has not only honed my athletic skills but has also shaped me into a better individual both on and off the field.”

He added: “Their guidance has been pivotal in shaping my path toward this momentous decision to enter the NFL draft.

“Thank you once again for everything. I am truly honored to have been a part of the Purple Fam and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

“I am thrilled to represent the University at Albany as I take this next step in my football career. Sad that it’s over but grateful that it happened.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 19, 2024


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