In this photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, shows former University of South Florida football player Nick Schuyler clinging to the engine of an overturned boat in the Gulf of Mexico; the only one of three NFL players to survive.
After three days of combing 24,000 miles of ocean, the Coast Guard on Tuesday stopped searching for two NFL players and a third man lost in rough, chilly Gulf of Mexico waters off the Florida coast.
Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, who played with the Detroit Lions last season, and former South Florida player William Bleakley, had been missing since Saturday when their boat cap-sized during a fishing trip.
Bleakley's father said he thought the Coast Guard did everything it could and that his expectations lowered after only one survivor was found Monday, nearly two days after the four friends were knocked out of their 21-foot boat.
"I think they were not to be found," Robert Bleakley said.
Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close said officials were sure that if there were any more survivors, they would have been found.
Crews did rescue Bleakley's former
"He said searchers came across a cooler and a life jacket 16 miles southeast of the boat, but saw no other signs of the men. "I think the families understood that we put in a tremendous effort," Close said. "Any search and rescue case we have to stop is disappointing." Family and friends embraced and sobbed outside the Coast Guard station shortly before the announcement. They left without talking with reporters.
"I'm sure that I'll speak of Will like he's still with us for a long time," Robert Bleakley said later of his son. "He'll be an inspiration for me for a long time. He always has been. I told everybody, I call him my hero."
Lions running back Kevin Smith called Corey Smith "a good, quiet guy, who always put in an honest day's work."
Kevin Smith, a
"The No. 1 thing when you're out there is, you have to respect the water," he said. "I know those guys had safety vests. I'm trying not to even think about it. That's a tough way to go."
Quarterback Jon Kitna, a former teammate with the Lions the past three seasons, said you never expect something like this to happen to a guy you know.
"It's a reminder of how life is fragile," he said. "Corey was a great dude." The four men left
The Coast Guard hadn't had more detailed conversations with Schuyler "due to his physical and medical condition," Close said. Schuyler was in fair condition and told hospital officials he didn't want to speak to the media.
Cooper, who is 26 and owns the boat, was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of
Cooper and Smith, 29, became friends when they were teammates at
Bleakley, a 25-year-old former tight end from Crystal River, Fla., was on the USF football team in 2004 and 2005. He had one reception for 13 yards in his career, which also included some time on special teams.
Stuart Schuyler said his son is an instructor at L.A. Fitness and had helped train Smith and Cooper.
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