At 15 years old, Jerome Neal had one big dream -- to play football. But when he signed up to play for one city league, he said that dream nearly led to his death.
"I always had an interest in football," Jerome said. "That's the only thing I want to do all day."
Jerome started playing football when he was 6, and he later excelled as a running back in a sport that his mother didn't favor.
"Since he was a little boy, him and his dad would go out and throw football, play catch. I didn't like him playing Little League football, but I would not take his dream away from him," Ebony Lawson said.
Lawson said she had no idea that Jerome's dream would nearly cost her son his life.
"I really felt like I was fixing to lose my son," Lawson said.
"I'm just crying and they put me in the car," Jerome said. "After that, I dozed off and I went to sleep, and I woke up in the hospital."
Lawson said her son would have died if she hadn’t gotten him to the hospital in time.
"If I hadn't gotten him there in time, he would have died in the back of my car. That's the worst feeling that any parent should have to experience," she said.
The family said the near-tragedy began with the coach of Jerome's city-sponsored Deerfield Beach Bisons football team, Darron Bostic, who Jerome said wanted him to play in the big rivalry game against the Pompano Chiefs.
The problem was that he weighed 180 pounds, and the team was for players 160 pounds and under.
"They were putting in the book that he was injured, he was overweight and he said, 'I got a game that I'm holding him for,' and I'm like, 'Oh yeah, and what is that? We got the Chiefs. That's the biggest game,'" Lawson said.
Jerome said Bostic put him on a "rabbit diet."
"Pineapples, apples, salad and water -- that was it. She'll try to feed me the food, (and) I would say no (and) my coach would say no," Jerome said.
On top of that, Jerome said Bostic would take him to the gym after practice to work on the treadmill until as late as 11 p.m. on a school day.
"He said, 'We're only at the gym.' I said, 'It don't matter. He's a minor. You don't have no business having him out late, and if you can't follow my rules you can forget it. He won't play. I don't care about the Bisons,'" Lawson said.
Jerome said Bostic was also giving him laxatives.
He said Bostic gave him and a few of his teammates bottles of magnesium citrate at practice.
"My coach gave me one from out of the car and I drank it, and 30 minutes later I had to use the bathroom," Jerome said.
Magnesium citrate is one of the most powerful laxatives you can buy, and it's not meant for weight loss.
Jerome said Bostic gave him a total of four bottles of the powerful laxative in all before the game. He said he even drank some before school.
"During school I'm having to use the bathroom. I mean, I'm using the bathroom the whole day," Jerome said. "The teacher is asking me why I'm using the bathroom so much. She said, 'You probably have to go get it checked out.' So they think it's funny."
Lawson, a trained home health aide, initially thought her son was experiencing food poisoning.
"He finally came back and said, 'I had drank a laxative.' I said, 'Where did you get a laxative?' And he said Coach Darron gave it to him," Lawson said. "I contacted Darron and I told him, 'I don't understand what makes you think it would be OK for you to give my child a laxative.' He was like, 'It's not going to do anything to him. He only had a little bit.' I said, 'Listen, I think I got a degree.' And he said, 'I respect you. I won't give him anything else.'"
But Jerome said Bostic took him and several other players to a hotel the night before the game to work them out all evening. He said he and a few other teammates who were struggling to make weight were given bottles of magnesium citrate.
"That's all we knew about it -- it makes us go to the bathroom and lose weight. That's all we cared about was playing that Saturday because that was the big game," Jerome said.
Amazingly, Jerome made weight, dropping 20 pounds, and played in the game.
"I only played one game for the Bisons, and that was my last," Jerome said.
Afterward, his mother knew something was terribly wrong.
"As he was coming off the field, he was staggering," Lawson said.
Tune in to Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman's 11 p.m. report Wednesday for part 2 of this story and to hear what the coach had to say.