At 25-years-old, former University of Missouri football player Michael Keck became the youngest person on record to die from a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Now, research on Keck's battered brain is helping us understand the severe consequences of playing a contact sport.

Although Keck never went pro in his football career, his family and friends estimate that he probably spent about 16 of his 25 years on a football field. In that time, he sustained multiple concussions, with the worst one taking place in 2011; this would also be his last. While Keck had been rendered unconscious following a hit before, this particular tackle had left him shaken and he decided afterward to give up the sport for good.

"I think, if he had it his way, he'd still be playing," associate head coach D.J. Vokolek told the student newspaper, The Standard, when Keck left the team. "But it had gotten to the point that he was having so many concussions that it could affect him the rest of his life. After consulting with the doctors, we came to the conclusion that it was time for him to call it quits."

Unfortunately, Keck's physical problems did not go away once he left the field — it worsened. He suffered from headaches and severe mood shifts, and in 2012, Keck was hospitalized for a bacterial infection and passed away shortly after. At the time doctors suspected the cause of death was an unrelated heart condition, but a later biopsy of Keck's brain would suggest another factor may have played a role in the young athlete's tragic passing.

According to a recently released study of Keck's brain, his brain was deformed and pockmarked, which are hallmark signs of CTE, The Washington Post reported.

CTE is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease most commonly found in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma such as athletes. According to Boston University's CTE Center, the condition is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and eventually progressive dementia.

Keck is the youngest person ever to have been definitively diagnosed with CTE, and his case may help to save the lives of others, The Washington Post reported. Dr. Ann McKee, co-author of the study now available in JAMA Neurology, told Reuters the damage to Keck's brain was probably so severe, because he started playing tackle at the young age of eight-years-old.

"This case, as well as many others, shows us that contact sport athletes at the amateur level are also at risk for the disease," McKee said.

That said, little is known about the disease, and it can only be definitively diagnosed after death with an autopsy. However, scientists hope that Keck's case will not only bring attention to the fact that even amateur athletes are at risk for CTE, but also expand our understanding of how the condition behaves.

Source: Mez, J, Solomon, Daneshvar DH, Stein TD, McKee AC. Pathologically Confirmed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a 25-Year-Old Former College Football Player. JAMA Neurology. 2016.