His football coaches and teammates universally agreed.
John Bloomfield was special, unique. More than just a player known for the shock of hair jutting out the back of his helmet as he pursued ballcarriers as a defensive end, Bloomfield had an engaging spirit that touched many. He could inspire with pregame speeches. An aspiring preacher, Bloomfield used Sacramento State teammates as test subjects to his pulpit.
Bloomfield's death Sunday at age 23 reverberated across the region, from Del Paso Heights, where he played at Grant High School, to Rocklin, where he excelled for two seasons at Sierra College, to Sac State.
The senior was taken off life support at Mercy Hospital after nearly a month in a coma. His mother, Stella Bloomfield, said she agonized over the decision for weeks. She stood vigil by his bedside, finding strength in scores of family and friends who offered hugs and stories. Some came from as far as his native Tonga. Finally, she said, it was time.
"We have to let him go," she said Sunday.
Bloomfield lapsed into a coma after being admitted Sept. 19. He played just the season opener at New Mexico State this season. The high altitude in Las Cruces, N.M., affected Bloomfield's breathing. He was treated for a collapsed lung and an undetected respiratory problem. One surgery led to three. He never woke up, despite his mother's pleas for him to open his eyes one last time, to return the grip on her hand, and to say goodbye.
"I met with his mother for a half-hour the other day," Sierra coach Jeff Tisdel said Monday. "Talk about a woman of tremendous strength and faith. All of us coaches think we're tough. This lady is tough, courageous, a pillar of strength. Unbelievable family and unbelievable kid. John was one of a kind."
Bloomfield openly talked about growing up in poverty in East Palo Alto and his drive to achieve. He attended three high schools in four years, landing at Grant as a senior. He played on the Pacers' 13-0 Sac-Joaquin Section championship team in 2006. Bloomfield didn't have enough units to graduate but got his GED, then his associate of arts degree at Sierra, where he was a two-year standout.
Bloomfield was on track to graduate at Sac State with a degree in ethnic studies.
Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck, who visited Bloomfield in the hospital every day, said he was most impressed with Bloomfield's ambition.
"He was so determined to graduate, to get that degree, to be a success, and he really was a success," Sperbeck said. "He's one of my favorites."
Sac State linebacker Jeff Badger led a group of 32 teammates for a hospital visit last month. They draped a Sac State football banner on his bed. On other days, family and friends circled Bloomfield's bed, playing guitars and singing songs.
Badger said Sunday, "John will always be one of our brothers, and he'll be missed."
Stella recalled a story about how her son appreciated the small things in life. When he was 10, Bloomfield took his shoes bearing holes on the bottom to his father, Palusila. Money was tight. Palusila slipped in a piece of cardboard into each shoe. Presto new shoes.
"John ran around the yard so proud of those, never complaining, always so happy," Stella recalled.
Sperbeck said his team will honor Bloomfield with decals bearing his jersey No. 43 for Saturday's home game against Cal Poly.
There will be a pregame moment of silence. Funeral services are pending.
"It's been really hard," Sperbeck said. "Some of our players came to grips with this earlier, and for others, yesterday re-opened the wound. The finality of John dying all of a sudden hits. And then you realize, he's gone."