By Teresa Carson
PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - A 19-year-old football player at Oregon State University who collapsed while playing basketball died after suffering a cardiac arrhythmia despite having no known heart problems, officials said on Thursday.
Defensive tackle Fred Thompson, a freshman listed as 6 feet 4 inches and 317 pounds, went down at the school's recreation center on Wednesday evening and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
"The cardiac arrhythmia he suffered is extremely difficult to treat," Gregg Hastings, a spokesman for the Oregon State Police told reporters. A cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, can in some cases cause a heart attack or sudden death.
Hastings noted that even if medical personnel had been standing in the room, they likely would not have been able to save Thompson. The Oregon State Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy on Friday.
Thompson's death at the university in Corvallis, about 90 miles south of Portland, came as some medical experts have raised questions about the growing girth of student athletes.
"Some of these kids are getting too large for their health and I'm not sure it is the best thing for the sport either," said Michael Bergeron, chairman of the newly formed National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute.
Beaver football coach Mike Riley told reporters that "everybody liked Fred" and he called the player "really, really a good kid." Riley added he was unaware of any heart issues or family history of heart problem in the athlete.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association said in a report that sudden death from a heart condition is the leading medical cause of death among its student-athletes.
But it remains rare, occurring in only one in 40,000 student-athletes per year, the NCAA said. Thompson was black, and the rate for African Americans is one in 17,000 although the NCAA said the reason for that higher rate was unknown.
Thompson, who was from California, had not yet taken the field for the OSU Beavers. He was considering a business major and was a standout player for his high school team, his player biography said.
All OSU athletes must pass physical exams before playing sports, and if problems are detected they undergo more testing, such as electrocardiography, also known as an EKG, a university athletic department spokesman said.
The university was planning a memorial service for Thompson after students return from the holiday break.
"The thoughts and prayers of Beaver Nation are with Fred's family," a statement on the athletics home page read.
Oregon State University is a research school with nearly 24,000 students. The football team's 2011 record was 3-9.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Cynthia Johnston)