KSU football player found dead



Richie Mulhall

Kent State football player Jason Bitsko, a junior marketing major, was found dead in his off-campus apartment Wednesday morning.

Bitsko didn’t  show up for morning practice, drawing questions from his fellow teammates. His roommate called the police upon finding Bitsko unresponsive in his bed around 9 a.m.

Brimfield police were dispatched to his apartment, located on Robert’s Journey Road in Ravenna, within three minutes of the call. Bitsko was deceased when police arrived at the scene.

Brimfield police chief David Oliver told TV2 reporters that there were no signs of foul play, drugs or alcohol involved in Bitsko’s death and said it appears to be due to natural causes.

The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy Thursday morning to determine the cause of death. The police incident report will also be released.

“Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing,” said Joel Nielsen, Kent State’s director of athletics, in a press release. “We are heartbroken by the news of Jason’s death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched.”

Kent State head football coach Paul Haynes reiterated Nielsen’s sentiments about the heartbreaking tragedy in another press release.

“Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family,” Haynes said. “As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time.”

The football team was told of Bitsko’s death at the end of the morning practice and held a meeting Wednesday afternoon. The remainder of Wednesday afternoon’s football activities were canceled and it is unknown at this time when practices will resume.

The university is currently providing counseling services and support to all student-athletes and staff members within university athletics to help them deal with this devastating loss. For more information, contact Psychological Services at the DeWeese Health Center at 330-672-2487.

The team has asked that media members respect the privacy of the players, coaches and athletics staff during this time. Those who wish to pay tribute  to Bitsko via social media are asked to use #KSUJason54. Tweets and Facebook posts have been pouring in all day, all over the Internet from friends, family, students and alumni to pay their respects to Bitsko and honor his memory.

Coach Hazell

Former Kent State football coach and current Purdue football coach Darrell Hazell, who recruited Bitsko to play for the Flashes in 2010, said he was shocked and deeply saddened by news of Bitsko’s death.

“You try to find a comfort in someplace and I don’t know if there is one right now, and your heart goes out to the family and family members,” Hazell said. “That kid was a great kid, you love that kid, I love that kid.”

Even though he only had the privilege to coach Bitsko for two years from 2011 to 2012, Hazell held him in high regard and commented on his former players’ uplifting spirit.

“He’s a guys that’s always looking out for his fellow teammates and that’s what made him so special. And for every activity, there was a smile on his face, a bounce in his step, and he’s a guy that will be truly missed because he loved so much and so many,” Hazell said. “Everything about Jason was positive. It didn’t matter if he was struggling. He was always positive about the outlook or the outcome, and it was very infectious to the rest of the guys.”

Bitsko played right tackle for the Flashes the past three seasons and was set to begin his fourth year on the team as the starting center. Last season he was named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-MAC team and was co-recipient of the Read Award, an honor given in the spring to a player who, according to Kent State Sports.com, “exemplifies hard work and dedication beyond the call of duty.”

He started all 12 games in his 2013 sophomore season, appeared in two games during his 2012 redshirt freshman season and did not play his true freshman year due to being redshirted.

Prior to Kent State, Bitsko, a native of Dayton, Ohio, graduated from Wayne High School. Under football coach Jay Minton, Bitsko was a standout lineman. His high school football accomplishments include a second-team, all-conference accolade and recipient of the conference academic/athletic award. He was also a member of Wayne’s 2010 state runner-up team.

Undergraduate Student Government

Marvin Logan, the executive director of Undergraduate Student Government, said he had been a close friend of Bitsko’s since his freshman year and was blown away by his death.

Logan first met Bitsko four years ago when his roommate played football for his father, Randy Bitsko. Logan eventually became Bitsko’s Flash Guide, and Randy told Logan to watch over his son.

“I just wanted to be there for him, be a mentor, be a friend to him,” Logan said.

Since Bitsko and Logan were both student-athletes at one time, with Logan running track and Bitsko playing football, they formed a common bond and grew close over the years.

“When he came in, he was just a 17, 18-year-old boy, and I got to watch him grow up to be a strong young man, and I mean that physically, mentally and emotionally,” Logan said. “He had a big heart and he meant a lot to me.”

Logan said he not only mourns the loss of his dear friend, but reflects on the life he shared with him. He said his favorite memory of Bitsko was when he was working at Subway in the Student Center, he would always make fun of Bitsko for buying more than one sub at a time.

“We would always crack jokes and laugh and have a good time, and I think the biggest influence he had on me,” Logan said, “Was I was supposed to be someone who looked after him and mentored him, but he taught so much about internal strength and fortitude.”

Taking him under his wing when he first arrived at Kent State, Logan said Bitsko reciprocated the love and care by teaching Logan how to have heart.

“He was everything that beats right here in the chest,” Logan said. “No matter what he decided to do in life, I think everyone would agree that he was going to be successful in whatever he was going to do, and he was going to find a way.”

Logan believed Bitsko’s last tweet, posted August 14 at 1:55 p.m., spoke volumes about the kind of person he was. The tweet read: “There 86,400 seconds in a day. Make sure you use one of those to thank god for everything you have #stayfocused.”

“That’s so JB — finding a way to be upbeat in a time when nobody else is upbeat and finding a way to be strong and find a way to appreciate everything in life,” Logan said.

Logan said USG will hopefully be posting a statement on its website soon about Bitsko’s death for his friends and family to see.

Kent State Sports.com lists Bitsko as the son of Randy and Pam Bitsko. He also has two siblings, Ryan and Caitlin.

Richie Mulhall is the sports editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].