'Role Model' College Star Dies Week Before NFL Draft

UAlbany lineman AJ Simon had hopes of making it to the big leagues
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2024 9:35 AM CDT
UAlbany Football Star, 25, Dies Right Before NFL Draft
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Willard)

In December, Amitral "AJ" Simon Jr. excitedly announced his "momentous decision" to enter the 2024 NFL draft. Now, just a week away from that event in Detroit, the former University at Albany defensive lineman has died at the age of 25, reports People. UAlbany's football team tweeted a statement Wednesday that they'd been informed of Simon's death earlier that day, calling him a "tremendous young man" and "role model both on and off the field." So far, there's been no word on Simon's cause of death.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 260-pound Pennsylvania athlete started his collegiate career at his home state's Bloomsburg University before he transferred to Albany, where he played for the Great Danes for two years, per the Times Union. During his tenure at the upstate New York school, Simon logged 17.5 sacks, more than a dozen of them in the 2023 season. While keeping up "honors" status at the school, with a GPA of at least 3.0, Simon also was designated as an All-CAA first-team defensive selection in 2023, as well as a Phil Steele All-CAA first-team selection and FCS Football Central First Team All-American honoree, per People.

Simon had eagerly anticipated next week's NFL draft. "The scouts are saying some positive things," Simon said in a late March workout, per the Times Union. "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." Dane Brugler of the Athletic recalled how others responded to Simon. "Simon was a fun player to study and the coaches raved about him on and off the field," Brugler wrote online. UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso, meanwhile, paid tribute to Simon from a more personal perspective. "Two joyous [years] coaching and becoming friends with AJ Simon," he posted on X. "I love you AJ and will always have a special place in my heart for #8." (More NFL draft stories.)

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