Basketball coach remembers Alabama student, superfan after unexpected death

ANSON COUNTY, N.C. — It was an emotional goodbye to a Wadesboro man who was a celebrity on the University of Alabama campus. Luke Ratliff was better known as “Fluffapotomus” -- a Crimson Tide super fan.

Shortly after cheering at Alabama’s final game in the NCAA tournament, the 23-year-old died due to what doctors believe were complications from COVID-19.

For someone who had only missed one Alabama game -- home and away -- in his college career, traveling over 10,000 miles, it should come as no surprise that members of the Crimson Tide basketball team traveled to Wadesboro for Ratliff’s celebration of life.

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Luke meant a lot to our program. He invested everything in our program. It was just a small way we could show our appreciation for what he meant for us,” said Nate Oats, Alabama’s head men’s basketball coach.

Ratliff, or Fluff as everyone on campus knew him, was the president of the Crimson Chaos, the official students group of Alabama Athletics. He was a sideline staple, always visible in his signature checkered sport coat.

“He always made a point to treat everyone around him with respect and kindness, and do his best to make them smile, and I think that’s something we all need to do a better job at,” said Bryan Hodgson, Alabama’s assistant men’s basketball coach.

Shortly after the Tide’s Sweet 16 loss to UCLA in March, Ratliff returned to Tuscaloosa. He felt dehydrated and went to urgent care, then to the doctor after having trouble breathing. One day later, on April 2, Ratliff died.

He never tested positive for COVID-19, but doctors said lung damage consistent with the virus was found.

Sunday’s celebration of life in Ratliff’s home town wasn’t about how he died, but how he lived.

“Makes me feel good that I knew him. He brought joy to my life. If everybody could dive into life like he did, the world would be a whole lot better place. I’m better for knowing Fluff for the short time I did,” Oats said.

One of Alabama’s coaches started a GoFundMe to support the Ratliff family, and in less than a week, it’s raised over $58,000.