High school football player dies after tackle, collapse on field

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A high school football player is dead after taking a hit while on the field during a playoff game two days ago.

Charles Youvella was a wide receiver for Hopi Jr/Sr High School in Keams Canyon. He and his team  took on Arizona Lutheran Academy on Saturday. It was that game, the first round of the Division V playoffs, that turned fatal.

Youvella, a senior, was tackled after catching a pass during the fourth quarter. He hit the back of his head when he went down, but he apparently shook it off. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, but nobody realized it, let alone how serious the injury was. Youvella, who scored the Bruins' only touchdown in the game (video above), lined up for two more plays before collapsing on the field.

While he was awake and talking when paramedics took him to St. Joseph's Hospital, his condition deteriorated quickly.

He died Monday night, his family at his side.

The news of Youvella's death sent shock waves throughout the state. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald posted a tweet asking for prayers for Youvella's family and friends.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which governs high school sports, is setting up an account for the Youvella family. Wallace Youvella Jr., the teen's father, is on the executive board of the AIA. Also the athletic director of Hopi Jr/Sr High, the school for which his son played, Wallace Youvella was appointed to the AIA board two years ago.

Keams Canyon, Youvella's hometown, is a little less than five hours northeast of Phoenix.

The dangers of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries

The effects of concussions on developing brains has been a hot topic, particularly among sports parents, in recent years. Not only are reports of sports concussions on the rise, but a number of pro athletes have come forward to talk about the long-term brain damage they've suffered in the wake of repeated hits and injuries.

One of the problems when it comes to diagnosing concussions is that the symptoms are not always obvious right away. Athletes like Youvella might think they are fine -- until suddenly they're clearly not. The situation can go from bad to worse before anybody realizes there's a problem.

From kids to parents to coaches, Arizona has been on the forefront of concussion education in an effort to protect its young athletes.

In 2011, Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1521, Arizona concussion legislation, into law. Under the law, a child who might have suffered a concussion during practice or a game has to be benched until a doctor clears him or her. The law also requires education for students, parents and coaches on the seriousness of sports-related injuries, including concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

In August, the Banner Concussion Center rolled out a pioneering program called Baseline Testing. Athletes are encouraged to run through a series of tests to measure eye movement, balance, response time and brain activity. The baseline test gives doctors a measuring point in the event the same player comes back concussed.

This basic information allows doctors to better understand the severity of a brain injury and determine a course of treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States.

3TV's Javier Soto contributed to this story.