‘He was totally unselfish’

Richie Mulhall

His selfless nature and positive attitude toward others is what made Jason Bitsko an unforgettable personality and beloved teammate.

“Jason had a passion for people,” his mother, Pam Bitsko, said. “He was totally unselfish and always trying to make others feel better.”

Bitsko, starting center for Kent State’s football team, died unexpectedly last Wednesday. He was found unresponsive by his roommate in his Brimfield apartment after not attending football practice that morning. Portage County Coroner Dean DePerro said Bitsko died of natural causes.

The Kent State football team is scheduled to attend Jason’s funeral today at 1 p.m. at St. Peter Catholic Church in Huber Heights, near Dayton, Ohio. Pam said since Wednesday, her family has experienced an overwhelming support from Jason’s hometown Dayton community, as well as the Kent State community. Facebook posts, tweets and mail continue to come in honor of her son’s memory.

“He was my rock,” Pam Bitsko said. “He was a rock for a lot of other people, not just me.”

Pam Bitsko said her son volunteered his time to visit with the students in her fifth grade classroom.

“They would ask him every question in the world, and he loved that,” Pam Bitsko said. “He loved trying to be the role model, and that was important to him.”

Bitsko, a junior marketing major, played right tackle for the Flashes the past three seasons. Last season, he was named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-MAC team and was co-recipient of the Read Award, an honor to a player who goes beyond his responsibilities on the field.

“He would never want to take the glory,” Pam Bitsko said. “He would always pass it on. The thought of Jason’s teammates starting a season and them having to deal with this in the loss of a friend, a player, I’m grieving for them because I know what a part Jason was of them. It wasn’t just his position, it was about the relationship, so I’m very sad for them.”

Nate Vance, senior defensive lineman for the football team, said the team is already feeling Bitsko’s absence. Players lifted and ran through walkthroughs Thursday morning — not because it was mandatory, but because it’s the way Bitsko would have wanted it.

“[Jason] wouldn’t want us to stop getting back into football,” said Vance, who said playing the game Bitsko loved could serve as a coping mechanism for the team. “He would want us to continue on a normal routine and try to get this team better, but we’re also keeping Jason in mind through this whole process and trying to honor him in what we do, how we practice and the effort we give.”

For Vance, Bitsko’s death didn’t only mean he lost a teammate, but also a friend.

“I’ve known him since he got here, and the impact he had on our team was truly a great one,” Vance said. “I’ve never seen someone light up a room as quickly and as easily as he did.”

Senior tight end Casey Pierce and senior wide receiver Chris Humphrey, painted the rock on front campus to pay homage to their teammate because Jason provided guidance and stability as a “rock” for his family and team.

They painted Bitsko’s number ’54,’ the dates of his birth and death and the ‘#stayfocused’ motto from his memorable last tweet: “There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Make sure you use one of those to thank god for everything you have #stayfocused.”

“He was just an all-around great guy and great leader,” Pierce said. “He commanded the huddle and became a great center.”

Humphrey said he and Bitsko were in the same class and was one of the first people he met at college. Bitsko put the team’s needs above his own, and players looked to him for guidance, he said.

“I’ve always looked up to Jason,” Humphrey said. “He just gave off positive vibes, and he was just fun to be around, fun to joke around. He also loved playing his video games.”

The team will wear Bitsko’s number ‘54’ on the side of their helmets this season in his honor. The team’s season opener is August 30 against Ohio University.

Bitsko is survived by his mother, Pam; his father, Randy; and his two siblings, Kaitlin and Ryan.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].