Lenoir-Rhyne Football player drowns at Lake Hickory - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Lenoir-Rhyne Football player drowns at Lake Hickory

HICKORY, NC (WBTV) -

Just a day before exams would be over and it would be time to head home, Lenoir Rhyne University freshman running back Vince Njoku drowned near Geitner Park in Lake Hickory Monday afternoon.

Njoku was with several friends when he jumped off a rock  into the lake just before 5:30 p.m.  and never came up again.

"I heard a commotion and some screaming," said Jonah Elliott, who was about 20 feet away with his own friends when it happened.

Elliott didn't know Njoku or the group of Lenoir Rhyne students but he and another man jumped in the water to see what they could do. "We got to the bottom but could not get to him," said Elliott.

Rescue crews arrived within minutes but it took another hour before the body was found in 13 feet of water.

"It was hard to see down there," said diver Bryon Stafford from Alexander County.  Stafford has responded to several drownings in recent years and says it never gets easier for rescue personnel. "We just pray that people will be safe and wear life jackets in the water."

Njoku was not wearing a life vest and despite the fact that at least half a dozen people were within a few feet of him, he still drowned.

Friends of Njoku cold be seen hugging each other and holding hands in prayer as rescue crews did their work.

University officials say Njoku's family in Woodstock, Georgia has been notified and was on their way to Hickory Monday night.

"We ask that you keep Vince's family and friends in your prayers in this trying time," said Dean of Student Life Katie Fisher in a statement released just hours after the drowning.

Njoku was just 19-years-old and was majoring in computer science.

On Tuesday, several members of the football team gathered to remember their friend and teammate.

"I just ate lunch with him in the calf just the other day," said Joseph Ray. "He would always light up a room when he came in."

Head Coach Ian Shields said Njoku will be missed, not just because of his football skills. "He was a fine young man with a bright future in all aspects of life," he said. 

Njoku was recovering from a knee problem and was looking forward to the next football season said Shields.

Freshman Marcus Davis said he was close to the victim and will not forget him. "I will think of him during every play next year."

Lenoir Rhyne University will hold a memorial for the student Thursday at 1 p.m.

Hickory Police are still investigating what happened but one official told WBTV news that there is nothing so far to indicate that what happened was anything other than a tragic accident.

Copyright 2014 WBTV. All rights reserved.

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