Mark Oppong had the heart of a football player and the compassion of a caring young adult which earned him the moniker, the Gentle Giant.
Oppong, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle from Mississauga, who was on a football scholarship at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., has died from a viral infection.
He was 20.
"It is hard to make sense of something like this. You don't ever think this can happen to someone so young and healthy," Bucknell coach Tim Landis said. "We called Mark the 'Gentle Giant.' He was very well-liked, and he was easy to get to know.
"Mark's mother, Doris, is a very strong lady, and in many ways she helped comfort us during those last painful hours."
Last Wednesday, Oppong was examined by a Bucknell physician after feeling discomfort and was later flown to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. His family joined him there until he passed away on Saturday from viral myocarditis -- a condition where the muscles in the walls of the heart become infected.
His parents were too distraught to talk when contacted last night, but a family friend at the Oppong home said, "Mark was a determined guy who did a lot in such a short time. Deep down he was a softie and his mom says 'she misses him.' "
Oppong didn't play much in his freshman season because of knee injuries. Yet coaches felt a professional football career seemed possible down the road.
Oppong is the first Canadian to play football at Bucknell since Toronto's Kevin Eiben, who's now a linebacker with the Argos.
"Mark had great potential, he played hard and was athletic," said talent evaluator Ron Dias, who runs Waterloo-based All-Star Football. "He definitely could have followed the same career path as Kevin."
Oppong, was a three-time regional all-star at Meadowvale and even helped out as a coach for one season under head coach Ed Gataveckas. Oppong also was serious about his studies and had a GPA of 3.7 and recorded an impressive 1,200 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test (for for U.S. colleges).
In the summer, Oppong played for the Mississauga Warriors in the Ontario Varsity Football League.
"He had a big heart," Warriors coach John Simas said. "I just saw him last month during spring break. He was all excited about finishing his rehab and getting ready for next season.
"Every time I think of Mark, I just see a big Teddy Bear -- a sweet kid who would go out of his way to help someone," Simas said. "Some of the guys would call him 'Little Shaq,' but if it wasn't for his size you wouldn't even think he was a football player because he was so quiet, like a gentle giant."
Oppong is survived by his parents, Alex and Doris, and brothers, Eddie and Dennis.
His funeral will be April 23 at 10 a.m., in Etobicoke at St. Benedicts Parish, 2194 Kipling Ave.