The fatal injury occurred Friday night during the third quarter of a varsity game in Homer, south of Syracuse. A lineman on the visiting team from Phoenix High School was hit hard and lay face down after the play.
"The coaches and trainers went over. He was talking. He rolled on his back by himself," said Phoenix School District Superintendent Judy Belfield. The boy was able to sit up after the play, but he complained of a very bad headache and collapsed when he tried to stand, she said.
An ambulance took the player to a hospital, and he was being transferred to a larger medical center in Syracuse when his condition deteriorated, Belfield said. The ambulance turned around, but doctors were unable to save the student's life.
The teen's name wasn't immediately released out of concern that not all of his relatives had been notified of the death.
Team coaches didn't learn until after the game that the player's injuries were severe, Belfield said. She said the school community was distraught, and that officials would open the high school Saturday to students or staff who wanted to talk about what had happened.
"It just one of those freak things," she said. "The Homer players have to be feeling just as much sadness."
The Homer Central School District posted a message on its website Saturday morning saying the community had been "deeply saddened and shares in the grief of the Phoenix School Community."
Head injuries in football have been a subject of intense scrutiny in recent years, with some medical evidence emerging to suggest that the equipment players use may not be enough to protect them from serious, long-term injuries.
A handful of high school students suffer fatal on-field injuries every fall, according to the University of North Carolina's National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. A player at Frostburg State University, in Maryland, died after suffering a head injury in a practice in August.
Belfield said the Phoenix school district sends its football helmets out to be reconditioned every year, and that each has to pass a safety inspection before the season begins.
"Over the course of the past few years, they have really tried to improve the protection of the head. But there is always a risk of injury or of death," she said. She added that an investigation would be conducted to try to determine what went wrong.