DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – At 15 years old, Jerome Neal had one big dream -- to play football. But when he signed up to play for one city league, he said that dream nearly led to his death.
"I always had an interest in football," Jerome said. "That's the only thing I do all day."
Jerome started playing football when he was 6, and he later excelled as a running back in a sport that his mother didn't favor.
"I never liked him playing Little League football, but I would not take his dream away from him," Ebony Lawson said.
Lawson said she had no idea that Jerome's dream would nearly cost her son his life.
"I really thought he was having a stroke," Lawson said.
Jerome recalls waking up in a hospital.
Lawson said her son would have died if she hadn’t gotten him there in time.
"He would have died in the back of my car," she said. "That's the worst feeling that any parent should have to experience."
The family said the near-tragedy began with the coach of Jerome's city-sponsored Deerfield Beach Bisons football team, Darron Bostic, who Jerome said wanted him to play in the big rivalry game against the Pompano Chiefs.
The problem was that he weighed 180 pounds, and the team was for players 160 pounds and under. Jerome said Bostic put him on a "rabbit diet."
"Pineapples, apples, salad and then water -- that was it," Jerome said.
On top of that, Jerome said Bostic would take him to the gym after practice to work on the treadmill until as late as 11 p.m. on a school day.
"He (said), 'We're only at the gym.' I said, 'It don't matter. He's a minor. You don't have no business having him out late, and if you're not going to follow my rules, you can forget it,'" Lawson said.
Jerome said Bostic was also giving him laxatives. He said Bostic gave him and a few of his teammates bottles of magnesium citrate at practice.
"Like, 30 minutes later, I had to use the bathroom," Jerome said.
Magnesium citrate is one of the most powerful laxatives that can be bought, and it's not meant for weight loss.
Jerome said Bostic gave him a total of four bottles of the powerful laxative in all before the game. He said he even drank some before school.
"During school I had to use the bathroom. I mean, I'm using the bathroom the whole day, constantly," Jerome said. "The teacher is asking me why I'm using the bathroom so much. She said, 'You probably have to go get it checked out.'"
Lawson, a trained home health aide, initially thought her son was experiencing food poisoning. Then Jerome told her what he drank.
"I said, 'Well, where did you get a laxative from?' And that's when he was telling me that coach Darron gave it to him," Lawson said. "I contacted Darron and I told him, 'You do not give a laxative to children.'"
But Jerome said Bostic took him and several other players to a hotel the night before the game to work them out all evening. He said he and a few other teammates who were struggling to make weight were given bottles of magnesium citrate.
"That's all we cared about was playing that Saturday because that was a big game," Jerome said.
Amazingly, Jerome made weight, dropping 20 pounds, and played in the game.
"I only played one game for (the) Bisons, and that was my last," Jerome said.
Afterward, his mother knew something was terribly wrong.
"I really felt like I was going to lose my son," Lawson said.
Wednesday night in Part II of this story, Bob Norman reports on the medical emergency that ensued that the family says nearly cost Jerome his life, as well as the disturbing arrest history of Darron Bostic, who says he did nothing wrong. Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz also reacts to Jerome's story, which occurred in a league the mayor strongly backed.