Darius Minor in Virginia this summer. Credit: Courtesy of Brandon Martin

A heart condition has been determined as the cause of death for the 18-year-old University of Maine football player who passed out and died during a workout in late July.

Darius Minor, 18, died of “ acute aortic dissection with cardiac tamponade, with hypertensive cardiovascular disease as a contributing factor,” according to Mark Belserene of the Maine medical examiner’s office.

Aortic dissection is a “relatively uncommon” and “serious” heart condition that occurs when the inner layer of a large blood vessel near the heart — the aorta — tears, according to the Mayo Clinic. The tear causes blood to surge through the aorta’s additional layers, which can be fatal if the blood ruptures through the outermost layer, the medical research center says.

Cardiac tamponade, caused by an abnormal increase in fluid in a sac of tissue surrounding the heart, can “dramatically” affect the heart’s ability to function, according to the Mayo Clinic. And hypertension, or high blood pressure, is listed as a “risk factor” that can cause the heart to fail, the center wrote.

The official autopsy results come exactly three weeks after Minor collapsed 15 minutes into a freshman workout July 24. The manner of Minor’s death was ruled “natural,” Belserene said. He is believed to be the first UMaine football player to die during a workout since the program began in 1896.

A spokesman for the UMaine athletic department referred all questions Tuesday to a UMaine spokeswoman, who declined to comment.

“We are not authorized by Darius’ family to discuss his medical condition,” spokeswoman Margaret Nagle wrote in an email.

The 18-year-old football player had passed physical exams from his doctor in his native Virginia and from the UMaine team doctor, head coach Joe Harasymiak said the day after Minor died.

Minor “could run for days” and seemed “healthy as a horse,” according to his former high school coaches and teammates, who told the BDN last month they were stunned by his death and said they were not aware of any health problems he may have had before coming to UMaine in early July.

On July 24, Minor, a 6-foot, 170-pound defensive back, was one of 17 freshmen participating in a light supervised practice at the university’s flagship campus. They hit the field around 1 p.m., ready to run drills in T-shirts and shorts on a humid day where temperatures in Orono hovered in the low 80s.

Around 1:15 p.m., the players had just completed a round of sled pushes — a strength exercise that involves pushing a weighted sled — and were taking a water break when Minor tapped the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Jon Lynch, on the shoulder and said he felt like he was going to pass out, according to Harasymiak, who was out of state during the practice.

Seconds later, Minor did pass out, Harasymiak said. Training staff immediately attempted to resuscitate Minor while Lynch dialed 911, but neither the school’s trainers nor the responding paramedics were able to bring Minor back to consciousness.

In the immediate wake of his death, Minor’s hometown community in Locust Grove, Virginia recalled how his athleticism and quiet determination fueled his commitment to a lofty goal: playing for the NFL.

The unknown cause of Minor’s death weighed heavily over the Black Bears first practice, just eight days after their teammate collapsed. While some of the players called the practice a way to honor Minor’s passing, many were left to grapple with the apparent randomness of his abrupt collapse.

“Darius will always be with us. We take inspiration from his strength and courage, his aspirations and character,” Harasymiak said in a statement Tuesday. “Darius has touched the lives of so many, including countless numbers in the Black Bear athletics community. Our thoughts continue to be with his family and friends.”

The Black Bears will honor Minor with a moment of silence before their first game Aug. 30 at home against New Hampshire.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.