Autopsy reveals Tyler Hilinski had CTE, family says

San Diego California.                        Sean M. Haffey  Getty

San Diego California. Sean M. Haffey Getty

Hilinski was a promising quarterback for the Cougars and was barely two weeks removed from his junior season when police say he shot himself in the head January 16.

"Was that the only thing that contributed to his death?"

During a recent appearance on the TODAY Show, Hilinski's parents revealed that a study of Tyler's brain show signs of CTE, according to the Mayo Clinic. "That was hard to hear".

In a new documentary his parents describe learning through testing that their son suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Tyler's parents also participated in a lengthy feature documentary with Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated; the story is tough emotionally but absolutely worth your time. "I think the fact that how he did it was a shock in itself".

The telltale sign of CTE is a build up of tau proteins in brain tissue, which cause the brain to shrink.

Ahead of his death, Tyler was last seen dropping a teammate off at class that morning.

"It was a shock, to get those results and to find out that he had it", his mother, Kym Hilinski, told Today. The diagnosis was revealed after his family opted to send his brain to the Mayo Clinic for testing. But, they wanted answers. We may never know the reason why Ty did what he did but we know how we can continue to make him happy even when he's not here.

Hilinski, who was 21 at the time of his death, apparently had the brain of a 65-year-old man. "And it was shocking, because we know Tyler. Yes, he was a little bit more reserved, but he was always happy".

Later in the year, Hilinski threw for 509 yards in a loss to Arizona. But still, Tyler had been just 21, he hadn't played that much in college and for most of his life he manned the most protected of positions.

The Hilinskis made a decision to go public with their story so they can help others. "What we're trying to do for student-athletes is we're trying to fund programs that support them and their mental health", Kym told Kotb. "They need it. There's not enough out there".

Important note: If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, please remember help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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