Will McKamey was the valedictorian of his small high school class and often talked about going to medical school at Vanderbilt after he served his commitment to Navy.
McKamey saw it as a way to help people, said Rob Hammond, the headmaster of Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Will was probably one of the most well-respected students that I've gotten to know in my years of school administration," Hammond, also an executive pastor at Grace Baptist Church, said Wednesday. "He was well-liked, very outgoing personality. He was a leader, [had] a lot of character, a lot of determination, a lot of discipline and a lot of drive. He lived life to the fullest."
McKamey, a Navy freshman slotback, died at Maryland Shock Trauma on Tuesday night, never regaining consciousness after collapsing on a practice field in Annapolis on Saturday. He was 19.
During his senior year at Grace Christian, where his father, Randy, was the head football coach, McKamey had been hospitalized after collapsing on the sideline during a playoff game. Transported to a hospital in Chattanooga, McKamey was found to have bleeding and swelling on his brain.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and athletic director Chet Gladchuk were not available for comment Wednesday, but a Naval Academy spokesman said that McKamey had never demonstrated any recurrance of medical issues until this past weekend.
"I can tell you from the day he arrived here on June 13 to the day he collapsed on the athletic field last Saturday, he showed no signs of injury or distress during his time here," Commander John Schofield said. "With that in mind, we're all searching for answers, as his parents are. It's just an extremely sad time."
It marks the second time in a little more than a month that the academy is mourning the death of a Midshipman. Max Allen, a senior who was a member of the same Battalion as McKamey, was found dead after crashing his SUV into a creek on the school grounds. The investigation is still ongoing, Schofield said.
Schofield declined to answer whether McKamey or his parents signed a waiver with the athletic department to allow him to continue playing football.
His parents put out a statement Monday saying that their son "did not sustain a bad hit or unusual or extreme contact in practice" on Saturday.
Asked whether the Naval Academy had some type of moral responsibility to prevent McKamey from ever suiting up again — despite him being cleared by doctors in Tennessee — Schofield said, "I think the best way to answer that, there's nothing to indicate that Will's collapse or his death were the result of an injury sustained on the football field.
"This event is a tragedy on levels that we can't totally express. The Brigade is heartbroken as are his teammates and the athletic staff. To simply chalk this up as an injury on the football field is possibly not taking into account the entirety of the situation."
Schofield said that the main responsibility now for the academy is to help those mourning McKamey's death.
"We know that he collapsed and yesterday he died and right now our responsibility is to make sure that his parents and his brothers and sisters and family — I mean the Brigarde as well — get the support they need," he said.
An athletic department spokesman said that the team will resume practice Monday.
In a statement released by the academy shortly after McKamey's death, Niumatalolo said, "During this most difficult of times, first and foremost, our prayers and thoughts turn to Randy, Kara [his mother] and their beautiful family. Our deepest and most sincere condolences go out to their entire family and friends. As our Navy football family mourns the loss of one of our brothers, we also celebrate and honor his life. He loved his family, his friends and his teammates."
Hammond, who has known the McKamey family for several years, said that Randy McKamey had good reason to be proud of the oldest of his three sons. It went beyond the field, where Will was chosen Mr. Football among the state's 2A players as a senior.
"He was the type of kid who just made people better being around him," Hammond said. "A father would have hoped that their son would grow up to be like Will. ... He was wise beyond his years. He would serve his heart. He was a hard worker. He wouldn't run from a challenge. He would meet it head on."
Hammond said that McKamey was particularly close to his brother Sam, a sophomore at Grace Christian who suffers from cerebral palsy.
"He was very protective of Sam. They were very tight, very connected," Hammond said. "Sam was Will's biggest fan. When Will would score a touchdown and Sam would run over to him and give him a hug."
After graduating at the top of his class of 55 students at the school just outside the University of Tennessee, McKamey had set out to help people. As he told Hammond, he wanted to study medicine after graduating from Navy and completing the five-year post-graduate military commitment.
"He wanted to make better people and better himself," Hammond said.
When Rafi Montalvo heard from some of his former Navy football teammates that Niumatalolo had called for an emergency meeting at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, he knew it had something to do with McKamey.
Montalvo, who left the academy in January after Navy officials wouldn't clear him to resume his career because of the brain injury he sustained in a car accident in November 2012, said he also knew something else.
"I felt they kind of knew that something was not right. They were kind of preparing themselves for something like this," Montalvo said Wednesday.
Montalvo, who had hoped to fly to Baltimore next week to support McKamey and family as they had when he was in the hospital, said Wedneday "that I wished I got to know him more."
Montalvo still plans on sending the family a letter he wrote offering his support.
"I was just getting to know him and we were becoming pretty [close] friends when I left," Montalvo said Tuesday. "He's a really good kid. He was kind of like me. I'm kind of a quiet person, and he's kind of the same way. He kind of reminded me of myself. He was a really hard worker."