By Ken Stone
Updated at 5:13 p.m. Dec. 6, 2016
Friends, fans and family from San Diego to Chicago are mourning the death of Rashaan Salaam, a Heisman Trophy-winning running back who first gained fame at La Jolla Country Day School.
A family spokesperson announced the death Tuesday. USA TODAY reported that his mother, Khalada, said she was told that officers found a note and suspect suicide.
ESPN reported that Salaam was found dead Monday night at Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder, Colorado, where he had played for the University of Colorado.
Former Union-Tribune sportswriter Brent Schrotenboer reported that Salaam’s family was told by police that they suspect his death might be suicide. “Note found,” he tweeted.
Khalada told USA TODAY: “It’s just a big trip. That’s all I can say. We just found out this morning, and we’re going to Colorado to take care of him.” She was traveling from San Diego to Boulder.
She told the paper the family hopes to bury him in Boulder because “he liked it there and was successful there, and he liked the people there.”
No signs of foul play were found, said ESPN, which quoted Colorado athletic director Rick George as saying: “The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today. We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”
ESPN added: “Plagued by injuries and fumbles with the Bears (he lost 14 in 31 games), he acknowledged, in 1999, that marijuana use contributed to his problems in Chicago.”
“It probably had me out there lackadaisical instead of going out there 100 percent,” he told ESPN in an interview then. “Everybody thinks getting high is cool, you can let it go when you want to let it go,” he said. “But it’s just as potent as cocaine.”
La Jolla Country Day football coach Tyler Hales tweeted: “This is a really sad day for LJCDS and @TORREYFOOTBALL @TorreyAthletics @torreyus. Our heart goes out to his family.”
— Tyler Hales (@coach_hales) December 6, 2016
once a Torrey, always a Torrey. RIP Rashaan Salaam ???
— #️⃣3️⃣ (@HensonMai_Loni) December 6, 2016
Salaam — a a practicing Muslim — was born in San Diego, the son of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Teddy Washington, who changed his name to Sulton Salaam.
He played eight-man football at La Jolla Country Day School and was recognized as a high school All-American. He was later inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.
In 1994, when he was a 20-year-old Colorado junior, the Los Angeles Times reported how Rashaan played Pop Warner football as a youngster and hoped to make a name for himself at Lincoln High School. But his mother, who ran a private elementary school, wanted her son to get an education away from inner-city life.
“When he turned 13, Rashaan enrolled at La Jolla Country Day, a private school 30 minutes from downtown San Diego with annual tuition of $8,500. He was so miserable there in the beginning that he often came home crying,” wrote Eric Shepard for the Times.
Aside from being away from his childhood friends, Salaam, a black Muslim, felt out of place at a school with a student body of predominantly wealthy whites.
“I never forgot where I was from,” he said. “I never considered myself from La Jolla.”
With only 250 students, La Jolla Country Day competed in a football division with other small schools. Instead of 11 players on a team, the league played eight-man football.
Rick Woods, La Jolla’s coach and a former Big Ten quarterback at Minnesota, knew he had something special in Salaam and was not about to let him get away. Woods took a personal interest in his star player, often giving him rides to and from school and offering advice.
Because La Jolla Country Day was not a regular stop for local sportswriters or recruiters, Woods sent videotapes of Salaam to major colleges and begged reporters to take a look.
By the time he graduated, Salaam had gained 4,965 yards and scored 112 touchdowns, setting numerous school and San Diego Section records. His statistics are even more impressive considering he sat out the second half of most games because of lopsided scores.
As great as Salaam was, however, he didn’t make the Union-Tribune’s All-Time County Football Team. He didn’t make the second time either. He was picked for third team.
Sports columnist Nick Canepa wrote in 2013:
“The most difficult position was running back. This is the only area in the country that has produced four Heisman Trophy-winning running backs — [Lincoln’s Marcus] Allen, Henry’s Ricky Williams, La Jolla Country Day’s Rashaan Salaam and Helix’s Reggie Bush. Reggie made first team (as an “athlete”), along with El Capitan’s Bill Fudge. Rashaan and Ricky were third-team backs.
“Hard, folks. Terrell Davis, an NFL and Super Bowl MVP back for the Broncos, played nose guard at Lincoln and didn’t make this list. Oceanside’s C.R. Roberts, Cathedral’s Tyler Gaffney and Lincoln’s mercurial and mystifying Darrin Wagner are first-team backs.”
I am stunned and sick with grief at Rashaan Salaam’s passing. A great and loyal Buff. Be at peace, my friend. https://t.co/FquZF3M97u
— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) December 6, 2016
“We’re minus one true Buffalo today.” Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam passes away at age 42. https://t.co/IsjgXPpPSo
— Colorado Buffaloes (@cubuffs) December 6, 2016
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Rashaan Salaam’s family, friends, and former teammates. pic.twitter.com/iF5bRIWKJk
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 6, 2016
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