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Coroner: Asthma Killed NW U. Player

A Northwestern University football player who collapsed during preseason conditioning drills and died a short time later succumbed to asthma, authorities said.

Rashidi Wheeler, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-2, 212-pound strong safety, had used his inhaler during the practice, school officials said. He died of bronchial asthma, the Cook County coroners office ruled Saturday. No further details were given.

"It's hard, I didn't want to believe it," said Dino Garcia, one of Wheeler's best friends from his hometown of Ontario, Calif. "He had such a bright future ahead of him."

Asthma had never prevented Wheeler from participating in sports. A July 12th physical didn't show any other major problems, according to Wildcats trainer Tory Aggeler.

Wheeler had struggled to catch his breath after leaving the field following the drills, said Alan Berkowsky, spokesman for the Evanston Fire Department, which sent paramedics to the scene.

"It got harder and harder for him to catch his breath and he collapsed," Berkowsky said.

Wheeler's mother, Linda Will, said she had talked to her son Thursday night and he told her he was feeling good.

"He felt he was in tip-top shape," she said by telephone from her home in Ontario, Calif.

Wheeler's death came two days after Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died of heat stroke following a practice in stifling heat and humidity. However, Friday's high temperatures in the Evanston area were only in the low 80s.

Wheeler started all 12 games last season as Northwestern won a share of the Big Ten title.

"Our hearts and thoughts are with the Wheeler family," said Zak Kustok, the Wildcats' starting quarterback the past two years.

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