The Reynoldsburg High School football team is dedicating the season to Nigel Chatman after the 2016 graduate died in a car accident Sept. 6.
"He was a special young man," Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White said of Chatman, 21, who was a member of the Raiders' 2015 playoff team. "The kids all knew him. He was one of our biggest supporters, and they want to dedicate the season to Nigel. It was pretty emotional, and it took me a while to get myself together once I found out about it because as I said before, we lost a really special young man in the Reynoldsburg community.
"When you get a vibrant young man -- and he was really enjoying himself up at Otterbein and was getting his degree -- I was just so proud of him. When I heard about it, I just couldn't believe it at first. I called a couple of his ex-teammates and they confirmed it was him. It was a serious kick in the gut."
The three-vehicle crash occurred about 5:40 a.m., just north of the Morse Road exit on Interstate 270.
According to a Columbus Division of Police report, a Chevrolet van driven by Daniel B. Sharpe, 50, of Thornville was in the second-from-left lane, heading north, when it rear-ended a 2019 Hyundai Elantra driven by Erreona Hodo, 21, of Reynoldsburg, who was immediately ahead of Sharpe's van.
Hodo's car was driven into the far-left lane and then crashed into the center median as a result of the collision, police said.
Chatman, who was driving a 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix in the far-left lane, attempted to avoid Hodo's vehicle as it hurtled in front of him but lost control, according to the report.
Chatman's car "spun out" and struck a light post in the median, police said. Chatman was transported to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7:18 a.m. Police said he was wearing a seat belt.
Hodo was taken to Mount Carmel East with minor injuries.
Sharpe was not injured.
Chatman was a sophomore defensive lineman on the Otterbein University football team, earning all-Ohio Athletic Conference honors as a freshman.
Chatman was majoring in communication studies and was involved with the school's debate team, according to a release from the university.
"We talk a lot about the importance of family as a program, as a department and institution," said Dawn Stewart, director of athletics and interim vice president for student affairs. "Never more is there a time for the meaning of that to come forward than right now. We will pull together and work to continue on for Nigel."
Last year, Chatman was second-team All-OAC after recording 35 tackles, including 10 for loss, and 5.5 sacks.
"There was never a day that he didn't have a smile on his face," coach Tim Doup said. "He was never in a bad mood, always ready to go, and was about as fun-loving a kid that you can be around. Nigel was a unique vocal presence and could always make somebody laugh no matter what the circumstances. He was competitive, willing and just wanted it all so bad. We will miss him in every way imaginable."
At the request of the Chatman family and a decision from players within the program, Otterbein played its game Sept. 7 against Ohio Wesleyan. The Cardinals lost the season opener 22-10.
The Columbus Dispatch reporter Bethany Bruner contributed to this story.