COLUMBUS, Ohio — Days before Ohio State plays in the Big Ten championship game, team buses carried players and coaches to a cathedral where they paid their final respects to a teammate who apparently shot himself in the head after sending a message to his parents saying concussions had addled his mind.
Family members, athletes and coaches visibly grieved as they pulled their coats up tight to their collars to fight off the cold as they left the private funeral of Kosta Karageorge, some with tears in their eyes.
The Buckeyes’ leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott, was distraught as he remembered the walk-on nose tackle whose casket he carried from the church.
Karageorge would always say, “‘Yeah, baby! Yeah, baby!’ just before coming out on the field to practice every day,” Elliott said before his voice broke with emotion and he walked away.
Karageorge, 22, was found dead in a trash bin on Nov. 30. Four days earlier he had disappeared after sending his parents a text message: “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment but these concussions have my head all f—– up.”
Dr. Anahi Ortiz, the Franklin County Coroner, had not ruled on the manner of his death but said Karageorge had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A handgun was found in the large steel container with him, police said, just a couple of hundred yards from his apartment near campus.
Karageorge’s mother told police he’d had several concussions and a few spells of extreme confusion. The coroner said a special examination will be done of Karageorge’s brain to look for any traumatic injury.
Fellow football players have described the 6-foot-3, 273-pound Karageorge as a hard-working and enthusiastic athlete who often stayed for extra practice. His position coach, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, was among the first off the bus with dozens of members of the Buckeyes football team.
Nearly all of Karageorge’s teammates departed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Columbus without speaking.
Earlier in the week, offensive tackle Taylor Decker fought his emotions as he talked about his teammate. He smiled as he recalled Karageorge’s enjoyment of practice, something not shared by every player.
“I know the D-line guys were saying he would always scream, ‘Yeah, baby!’ before he would go out,” Decker said.
Decker said he and the rest of the Buckeyes began to expect the worst after Karageorge, who went to high school in the Columbus suburb of Worthington, missed practice on Nov. 26 and then again Nov. 27.
“It’s not like every day a big guy like him, with a lot going for him, just goes missing,” he said. “Obviously, you worry about what could be. I think that was in the back of people’s minds — if we’d never see him again. It just hurts. It sucks losing somebody.”
Karageorge was a Buckeyes wrestler for three years and joined the football team in August. The senior hadn’t played any games and was a member of the “scout team,” taking on the role of an opposing team member during the regular starters’ weekday practices.
His body was found by a woman searching trash bins near her neighborhood for scrap metal to sell. Karageorge’s family planned a private burial in Athens County.
Ohio State’s football team will wear a helmet sticker with Karageorge’s No. 53 during the Dec. 5 Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin in Indianapolis. A moment of remembrance before the kickoff is also being planned.
(RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer)