CANTON — A research center will try to determine if a former standout high school football player and Ohio State walk-on had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated head trauma.
Authorities say Zachery R. Slagle died by suicide. He was found dead from a gunshot wound inside his Canton home at about 1:20 Thursday morning.
The 31-year-old Slagle, an offensive lineman at Canton McKinley High, then Ohio State University, posted a message on his Facebook page at 1 a.m. — prompting family and police to rush to his house.
Police broke down a door, but he'd already killed himself.
In the Facebook message, Slagle wrote the phrase '#checkforCTE' — a reference to the same degenerative brain disease found in such deceased
NFL greats as Junior Seau, Ken Stabler, Aaron Hernandez and Andre Waters, to name a few.
Researchers say one feature of CTE is a build-up in the brain of an abnormal protein, tau. The changes in the brain have been associated with symptoms that can range from memory loss and confusion, to aggression, dementia and suicidality.
Harry Campbell, an investigator for Stark County Coroner Anthony P. Bertin, said Slagle also left a lengthy paper-written message on a table inside the home.
Campbell said the coroner's office has removed Slagle's brain, which will be sent to the CTE Center at Boston University for examination.
Testing for CTE can't be done on a living person, so diagnosis can only be made post-mortem.
"Dr. Bertin told the family he would help in any way possible," Campbell said, adding the family also wanted to have Slagle's brain examined for CTE.
Gina DiGravio, a spokesman for the CTE Center, said they can't confirm or deny any donations made for research.
The center's research brain bank is the largest in the world focused on traumatic brain injury. It currently contains more than 600 brains, including more than 325 diagnosed with CTE.
Among the goals of its research are to develop a test for living patients, pinpointing environmental and genetic risk factors and finding a treatment for CTE.
The 6-foot-2, 330-pound Slagle was employed as a bouncer at Gatsby's Pub. Prior to that, he'd worked for Kiko Auctions and as a security resource assistant in the Canton City Schools.
A 2006 McKinley graduate, Slagle was an All-Ohio special mention during his senior season with the Bulldogs. He spurned several Division II college scholarship offers to instead attempt to make the roster as a walk-on at Ohio State.
Slagle accomplished that goal — appearing on a Buckeyes' roster for at least two seasons.
A former Ohio State teammate, tight end Jake Ballard, created a web page to help Slagle's family with expenses.
On the page, Ballard wrote: "Zach was a worker. His summer before enrolling at Ohio State, he worked tirelessly doing four jobs in an effort to save up for his tuition. Once he arrived at OSU, he was a very valuable member of the team and his toughness was very evident ... "
The page is at www.gofundme.com/f/mqa6y