Suicide by gunshot. That’s what the papers read the next morning and what the coroner’s report would read for those investigating the death of outgoing Penn State student Kyle Ambrogi. The details of his downward spiral are not clear, not even to his closest friends. They tried to help, but in the end, what beset the handsome lad who loved football was a mystery to friends and family alike. Something had brought Ambrogi to a dark place from which he felt he could not escape.
“We used to joke with him that he should run for mayor,” friend and teammate Brad Martinez said in an ESPN interview. “Because everywhere we went…someone came up to him that knew him.”
Everybody’s Best Friend
On the outside, it seemed that Ambrogi had everything under control. He was a prep school football star, a solid player on the Penn State football field and was working hard within the prestigious Wharton School of Business. He had a 3.5 GPA. He even had a demanding but promising business internship. More than that, he was everybody’s friend. Ambrogi never seemed to meet a stranger, preferring instead to make them an instant friend. He was charming, handsome, and had dated the same girl since high school. If you had a problem, you went to Ambrogi for advice. He’d listen and then give you a course of action. His response to stressful situations-whether coming up with a way to convince his mother he and his younger brother never needed afterschool care again or how to defeat the upcoming football team in high school-was to structure a detailed plan with a backup plan for every angle.
He was the definition of “All-American.”
Moving into a dark place
But Ambrogi fell silent, distant and finally sought solace in the pull of a trigger, ending a life that friends called “lively and fun.” He was well-liked on and off the field, yet Ambrogi, during his decline, called himself a “bad friend.” Perhaps the early warning signs, such as creating a plan for how to fight every single member of his high school football team-though he’d never been in a fight in his life and was well-liked-was indicative of a secret insecurity. Perhaps moments like that were overlooked because his normal mode of behavior dwarfed such times.
“He told me he was bored,” said his mother. “That’s not like Kyle. He could always find something to do.”
Many theories, no answers
Ambrogi would go through a medical diagnosis of clinical depression and be put on a course of drugs and therapy. His younger brother, Greg, said that Kyle didn’t feel the therapy or pharmaceutical help was of any benefit, so he opted out of the treatments. Less than two months later, Kyle would shoot himself in his mother’s home in Havertown, Penn. Many would theorize as his life was dissected to discover what might have pushed him into a world of hopelessness. Despite many opinions on what guided Ambrogi that day, his mother says she’ll never know, that none can really know what lies in a person’s heart. So she simply misses him and works to move through the grief with her younger son, Greg.
“His spirit is still with us,” his mother says. “I talk to him every day.”
Dealing with the aftermath
Ambrogi’s friends have moved on, but there’s not a day they don’t think of the loss of their teammate and cohort. Though Penn State forged on and dedicated the season to Ambrogi, it won only two games and saw the first season in years to record five losses. The friends have now had special rubber bracelets akin to the yellow Lance Armstrong style that carry the dates of Ambrogi’s birth, death and also include his team number. Hoping to establish a memorial scholarship, his teammates are asking fellow students and friends to buy one of the royal blue bracelets for $5.
Students and family, however, aren’t the only mourners.
Coach Steve Downs, a defensive coach who actually recruited young Ambrogi for Penn State, fell into a deep depression as he grieved for the deceased student. There were days, he said, that he could not get out of bed and briefly considered quitting the sport.
“You get the feeling that there’s no tomorrow,” Downs said. “I’m not sure how I can go into someone’s home and convince them that we can take care of their son. I blame myself a lot of the time. You know, if you had a crystal ball to look into and see what would happen, would I still have recruited him?”