The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at Penn, reported that Ambrogi had been battling clinical depression. His suicide, however, came as a shock to those who knew him.
Several of Ambrogi’s friends at Harvard, who are attending his funeral today, remembered Ambrogi as a humble and goofy young man with a charismatic and outgoing personality.
“I loved Kyle like a brother,” said John F.X. Connors ’06, Ambrogi’s best friend since kindergarten, speaking through his roommate Brian C. Tucci ’06. “Things are never going to be the same without him.”
Tucci, a teammate of Ambrogi’s at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, said that Ambrogi was the type of person who everyone loved to be around.
“He was just a total inspiration to all of us,” Tucci said from his home in Wayne, Pa. “He worked hard in the classroom and on the field. He had a tireless work ethic.”
But to Tucci, Ambrogi’s defining characteristic was his humility. Tucci said that if he ever congratulated Ambrogi on a good game, his friend would become embarrassed and say, “No, the team played well.”
“When we were seniors, a lot of sophomores on the team were really intimidated by him, like he was a total stud, but he’d just walk up to them and say ‘hi’ and start joking with them,” Tucci said.
Andrew E.F. Gordon ’09, who was a sophomore when Ambrogi was a senior at St. Joseph’s, and who also went to grade school with Ambrogi and his younger brother, remembered Ambrogi as a “hero running back” who was the talk of the school for days before and after each football game.
“He was always a natural athlete, always a really nice guy, always surrounded by friends,” said Gordon. “It never crossed my mind that something would be depressing him.”
Harvard football coach, Tim Murphy, recalling the suicide of a player he coached at the University of Cincinnati, said that a suicide is a huge blow to a coach and a team and can come as a complete surprise.
“As a coach, I kind of beat myself up [after the Cincinnati player’s suicide]. I thought I should have seen the signs of this coming,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and know what inner a demons a person is struggling with.”
Murphy recalled Ambrogi as a “prominent part of the offense, an intense competitor, and a classy, hard-nosed kid.”
After hearing about Ambrogi’s suicide, Murphy called the Penn coaches to express his condolences and sent flowers to the Ambrogi family on behalf of the Harvard football team. He said he plans to discuss the suicide with his team in the upcoming days.
In a statement last week, Penn football head coach Al Bagnoli called Ambrogi “one of our shining lights.”
“Kyle was a remarkable young man, a true scholar-athlete, an ambassador for Penn, a tremendous teammate and leader on and off the field, as well as a caring and outstanding brother,” Bagnoli said.
Penn is taking various steps to deal with the tragedy, said spokeswoman Lori Doyle. The university’s Counseling and Psychological Services will be meeting with the football team and any others affected by Ambrogi’s death.
“The Department is working with the many support services that exist at Penn...to lend support to Kyle’s friends and teammates, who are devastated by his untimely passing,” Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said in a statement.
The Harvard campus last faced an apparent suicide in February 2004. The death of Winthrop House student Anthony Fonseca ’04-’05 came about a year after Marian H. Smith, Class of 2004, committed suicide in December 2002. University spokesman Joe Wrinn said at the time that if Fonseca’s death were confirmed as a suicide, it would be the 14th student suicide at Harvard since 1990.