Alabama senior cheers on team just days before doctors suspect he died from COVID-19

WADESBORO, N.C. — A Wadesboro native’s heartbreaking death is making national headlines. His family says doctors suspect it was COVID-19.

Luke Ratliff was a senior at the University of Alabama and was cheering on his team in the Sweet 16 just days before he died.

Luke’s family told Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis that he was much more than a fan, he was a leader during his time at Alabama and was known all across campus. Luke’s mom Pam Ratliff says he built a legacy of bringing student fans back to the stands. But it wasn’t just basketball; Luke would go to games for every sport.

“It got to the point any sporting event, I turned the TV on and saw my son,” Pam said.

Luke, was larger than life. The Alabama senior led the student section at every Bama basketball game, wearing his signature plaid blazer.

His mom said he wore out the original. “At one point the tailor said, ‘We don’t have any material left to fix this.’”

So the coaches gifted Luke a custom-made one.

“It was his pride and joy and he wore it to every game after that. I don’t think they knew how much that meant to him,” his mom said.

Luke was the president of the Crimson Chaos and he was known affectionately by his nickname, “Fluff.”

At the last home game, Pam saw her son in action.

“I was just amazed. Because to see him on television you see he’s animated and has the crowd going, but to see him in person, standing on the seats yelling to the top of his lungs and all the kids following his lead!” said Pam.

When the team cut the net on that final home game, they gave a piece to Luke. Luke only missed one game in his college career, logging more than 10,000 miles to follow the Tide.

So there was no question that Luke would be in the stands for the NCAA tournament as Alabama made it to the Sweet 16, Luke’s final season.

“It really was a dream season for Luke, for the team,” Pam said.

After returning to Tuscaloosa, he felt dehydrated and went to an urgent care center.

Last Thursday, Luke went to the doctor with trouble breathing and then just a few hours later on Friday, with his parents by his side, Luke died.

Pam says Luke never had a positive COVID-19 test, and he had three negative tests earlier that week.

“No one was more careful than Luke,” she said.

The doctors told her the lung damage indicates it was probably COVID-19.

“We’re broken, of course we’re broken,” Pam said.

Luke’s death has sparked national interest because of his trip to the tournament.

His mom wants everyone to remember her boy: the son of a North Carolina highway patrolman, the coach of his brother’s Special Olympics team, and the fan who captured the hearts of the Crimson Tide.

“He never met a stranger. He was kind to everybody. Knowing the impact he had on so many people, it helps ease the pain some,” Pam said.

Adding to this tragedy, Pam said he really wanted to get the vaccine and was just hadn’t been able to get one yet.

Channel 9 asked Luke’s mom what she’d like his legacy to be.

“I would love it if everyone lived like Fluff. Live like Fluff, like everyday was your last,” she said.

One of the Alabama basketball coaches started a GoFundMe for Luke’s family, and in just two days, the page has exceeded its fundraising goal, reaching more than $53,000.