Ted Agu, Cal football player and UC Berkeley junior, dies at 21

Katherine Chen/File
Student-athletes and members of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, led an evening candlelight service Feb. 12 outside Memorial Stadium.

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Ted Obinna Agu, a UC Berkeley junior and Cal football player nicknamed “Pre-med Ted,” died Friday morning after a teamwide training run. He was 21.

Agu, remembered for his gregarious personality and contagious smile, was pursuing a degree in public health. After graduation, he had hoped to attend medical school.

In commemoration of Agu, student-athletes and members of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, led a Wednesday evening candlelight service at Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza, outside California Memorial Stadium.

“Everyone knew that Ted had some big dreams that he was going to achieve,” said teammate and sophomore Stefan McClure in a press conference before the service Wednesday night. “And it’s just sad to see that he was cut short from achieving them.”

Wristbands were handed out honoring Agu, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and head football coach Sonny Dykes spoke about Agu’s impact on the program and the Black Campus Ministries’ gospel choir sang two songs, including “Amazing Grace.” A video honoring Agu was shown, and teammates, fraternity brothers and friends spoke. It was also announced that a banner will hang outside Memorial Stadium honoring Agu.

“I’ll be a better man having spent a short time with Ted Agu,” Dykes said at the service.

Agu attended Frontier High School in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was known for his engaging personality and leadership. A three-sport athlete in high school, competing in football, basketball and track and field, Agu was captain of his football team in his junior and senior seasons. He was also on the school’s honor roll for all four years.

“All the guys on our team just gravitated towards him,” said Michael Tootle, who played high school football with Agu for four years. “He just looked so happy every time he smiled.”

Tootle, who graduated high school with Agu in 2010, helped create the Ted Agu Memorial Fund online to raise money for the cost of Agu’s funeral and to support his family. As of Wednesday night, donations for the fund totaled more than $28,000.

Rich Cornford, head varsity football coach at Frontier High School, said he could always rely on Agu to get his school work done, show up to practice and work his hardest. Cornford, who started coaching the program in the middle of Agu’s sophomore year, said he never missed a single workout.

“From a coach’s standpoint, he was a dream,” Cornford said. “He left a lasting legacy that hard work pays off.”

Agu started his academic career at UC Berkeley the summer before his freshman year, in the six-week Summer Bridge program aimed at helping students make the transition to the university. This past November, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic team.

On the field, Agu played in 12 games off the bench as a defensive lineman and linebacker, registering nine tackles over three seasons. He joined the football team as a walk-on. Last spring, he earned an athletic scholarship.

“He is what we want our student-athletes to be,” said Nick McNeil, an academic adviser in the school’s Athletic Study Center, where Agu worked as a peer adviser for the last two years. “He’s that style of, ‘I’m not here to play ball — I’m here to get an education. And playing football is just something I love to do.’ ”

Agu’s funeral will be held Feb. 21 at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Bakersfield at 2 p.m. A memorial service is also planned to take place on campus at a later date.

“Ted will always forever influence us, impact us for generations to come,” Barbour said at Wednesday’s service. “He will continue to impact everyone who crosses through these doors. That is Ted Agu.”

Contact Stephen Hobbs at [email protected]