KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Shock. Surprise. Concern. Heartbroken.
Those are the various emotions Chiefs players described Thursday when reflecting on former teammate Tavon Rooks, who suffered a heart attack during training camp practice on Aug. 17, as first reported by ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal.
“It was a hot day, I just thought maybe he was dehydrated,” offensive lineman Jarrod Pughsley said. “And then you hear he suffered a heart attack. With someone that young, you hear about them suffering a heart attack, it’s kind of crazy. We were super surprised.”
The Chiefs officially informed the players of Rooks’ status during a team meeting on Aug. 18.
Speculation surrounding his condition, however, made its way around the players before the announcement.
“Rumor went around pretty fast in the locker room,” guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. “I heard something went wrong with Tavon, but I didn’t know exactly what happened. It was like a day after during a team meeting, Coach (Andy) Reid told us the whole story of what happened. It really shocked me.”
The disclosure of Rooks’ near-death experience prompted defensive end Mike DeVito to reflect on life, and not the sport he plays.
“It brings everything back to kind of the real world,” DeVito said. “You kind of get encompassed in football, especially during training camp. When you hear something like that, it brings you back to reality.”
Rooks stayed in the hospital for five days and received text message of support from numerous teammates, including left guard Ben Grubbs.
Grubbs and Rooks were teammates with the New Orleans Saints in 2014, and Grubbs didn’t waste time reaching out.
“I thought it was important to let him know that he’s not just a face,” Grubbs said. “He’s a person and he was one our teammates. I had the opportunity to be with him in New Orleans and he’s a great guy.”
Rookie center Mitch Morse agreed.
“He always talked about how much he loved his family,” Morse said. “Our initial reaction was the family and hope he pulls through. We were with this guy 24 hours before and it was great to hear he was in good hands.”
The Chiefs waived Rooks with a non-football illness on Sept. 1, but didn’t allow Rooks, a family man with a 1-year-old daughter, to incur the financial burden of medical treatments alone and are paying his medical bills.
Center/guard Zach Fulton, who said he was “heartbroken” when he discovered Rooks suffered a heart attack, found out the team’s gesture Thursday morning.
“That’s amazing,” Fulton said. “That shows how much care the Chiefs have and what they’re doing. It shows a lot about them, that they’re good people.”
Rooks and Pughsley became close friends during training camp because their dorm rooms were next to each other. And Pughsley said his former teammate often texted him before preseason games to offer best wishes, and then after the games to offer congratulations.
He is happy to know the Chiefs are taking care of Rooks when the team isn’t obligated in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.
“I’ve heard stories of how you can’t paid,” Pughsley said. “The fact they’re doing that just shows what kind of character they have in the front office and the organization as a whole. They didn’t have to, but it’s great they are.”
Rooks won’t be playing football anytime soon while he recovers in Chandler, Ariz., but he isn’t far from the Chiefs’ thoughts.
Left tackle Donald Stephenson offered a message of support and hopes the best for his former teammate.
“You approach life the way you approach football, be successful at it,” Stephenson said. “Just keep going. If you can’t play anymore, play the game of life and be great at it.”