State News

Coast Guard got no SOS from missing NFL players

Posted March 2, 2009

— The Coast Guard received no distress signal from a fishing boat that disappeared off Florida's Gulf Coast while carrying two NFL players and two former college players.

The Coast Guard is searching a wide area for the 21-foot vessel carrying Corey Smith, a Detroit Lions free-agent defensive end and former North Carolina State University player, and Marquis Cooper, an Oakland Raiders linebacker. Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, both former University of South Florida players, were also aboard.

The boat was reported missing Sunday, one day after it left Clearwater Pass and did not return as expected Saturday evening as the weather became increasingly rough, with heavy winds and high seas.

Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close said there was no communication with the men even before the weather started to pick up and no SOS call was received.

"That's not to say they didn't send one out," he said. "We didn't receive anything."

The Coast Guard used a helicopter and an 87-foot ship to search a 750-square mile area west of Clearwater Pass, but poor weather on Sunday made the search difficult.

There was no sign of the men or the boat by Sunday evening. Relatives told the Coast Guard the men had lifejackets and flares onboard.

Cooper owns the boat and he and Smith have been on fishing trips before, said Ron Del Duca, Smith's agent. The pair had been teammates on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004.

Bad weather could be dangerous for a boat the size of Cooper's. The weather early Saturday had been fair, but worsened toward the evening as a front still battering the area moved in. The National Weather Service said seas were about 2 to 4 feet Saturday morning and increased to 3 to 5 feet in the afternoon. Late Saturday night, a small craft advisory was issued, when winds were around 20 knots and seas were up to 7 feet or more. There were no thunderstorms in the area.

Danielle Mayes, owner of Jaxson's Bait House near the ramp where the men departed, said many of the boaters who returned Saturday evening said they were surprised the water had gotten so rough.

Smith, 29, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for the winless Lions. Smith, who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, also played for the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He lives in Richmond, Va.

He ranks seventh in N.C. State history for career sacks with 15½ and 11th in tackles for loss with 31.

Del Duca said Smith is one of the "good guys" of the league and was planning to start visiting teams as a free agent this week. He said he has spoken with Smith's family and is also in touch with Coast Guard officials.

"They've assured me that they're deploying all available resources to look for these guys and get them back," he said.

Cooper, 26, has played five seasons with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, Jaguars, Steelers and Raiders. He appeared in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005, recording 30 tackles. He has played sparingly since as he has bounced between teams, appearing in 13 games and recording 10 tackles. Cooper, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, played college ball at Washington. He grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix.

Cooper told The Seattle Times in 2002 that one reason he chose Washington was the abundant fishing.

"I like fighting the fish," Cooper told the newspaper. "And just relaxing out there and being alone and being outside."

Bruce Cooper described his son as an avid fisherman who goes deep sea fishing "any opportunity he gets." The two went deep sea fishing together two years ago.

"I swore I would never do so again," Cooper said in a statement. "I didn't like the fact that I couldn't see land. Needless to say I am very concerned. I am praying and hoping for the best."

Stu Schuyler, Nick's father, said his son had gone fishing with the same group of friends last weekend, apparently en route to a shipwreck about 50 miles offshore where fish are abundant. He said he left his son a message on his cell phone Saturday morning, asking him not to stay out too late because of the approaching storm.

"I'm optimistic," Schuyler said. "But I'm also realistic."

Lions spokesman Bill Keenist and Raiders senior executive John Hererra said the teams are monitoring reports. Both teams issued statements saying their thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the missing men and those involved in the search.

---

Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer in Miami contributed to this report.

13 Comments

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  • dont_preach Mar 2, 2009

    iron fist- Folks like that find pleasure and hide behind computers because they have no friends and they have no life and scared to speak to people face to face. they have a miserble life and thank god for computers for letting them make a "big boy" comment. Please let him have his fun and the rest of us will pray for the folks involved.

  • iron fist Mar 2, 2009

    air biscuit or air head, being football players or ex players has nothing to do with them being missing, they were fishing on a small boat in rough waters, I hope they are found alive but the longer they are missing the smaller the chance of finding them. Finding them is what is important not what they do for a living.

  • JustBreathe Mar 2, 2009

    These guys should be in great physical shape so if the boat capsized, they should be able to hang onto the hull for a while. I'm hoping they have just gotten carried way off their course and will be found safely. We should all keep them in our prayers along with their families who are surely worried more than any of us can imagine.

  • Air Biscuit Mar 2, 2009

    Enter troll # 2--me.

    ignc73--I agree with you, and the folks calling you a troll are just driving the point home---this would not be news if the NFL players were on board.

    Everyday people are lost at sea every week, but since two athletes are involved, we wail and moan...let's just break out the ashes and sack cloth, and shave our heads.

    This is MY bridge, and don't tromp over it.

    Troll the IInd

  • Tizu Mar 2, 2009

    dont_preach: Hey, we actually agree on something! :)

  • dont_preach Mar 2, 2009

    You're joking right? 4 young lives may be lost, and that's what you have to say? Wow.

    I agree with you tizu! They sad part about that foolish statement he made is that he said it and ran like a coward.

  • dbcooper41 Mar 2, 2009

    "Big deal. Is this considered "news" because these guys worked for a sports company? That's ridiculous.
    ignc73"
    hey troll, you can go back under your bridge now. the snow has melted.

  • Tizu Mar 2, 2009

    Big deal. Is this considered "news" because these guys worked for a sports company? That's ridiculous.
    ignc73
    March 2, 2009 11:47 a.m.
    Report abuse

    You're joking right? 4 young lives may be lost, and that's what you have to say? Wow.

  • ignc73 Mar 2, 2009

    Big deal. Is this considered "news" because these guys worked for a sports company? That's ridiculous.

  • Tizu Mar 2, 2009

    diwanicki - Maybe you should re-read the first paragraph of this story. All 4 persons were mentioned. I know the focus is on the two NFL players, which is sad, but there was mention of the other two Gentlemen as well..

    "...Corey Smith, a Detroit Lions free-agent defensive end and former North Carolina State University player, and Marquis Cooper, an Oakland Raiders linebacker. Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, both former University of South Florida players, were also aboard."

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