State News

Search narrows for football players off Fla. Gulf Coast

Posted March 2, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— A missing boater found clinging to an overturned boat was rescued Monday off Florida's Gulf Coast, but the search continued for two NFL players and another man aboard who didn't return from a weekend fishing trip.

Survivor Nick Schuyler, a former University of South Florida player, told rescuers that the 21-foot boat was anchored when it flipped Saturday evening in rough seas and that the others got separated from the boat, Capt. Timothy M. Close said.

Former N.C. State player missing at sea

Since then, Schuyler, who was wearing a life vest, had been hanging onto the boat found by a Coast Guard cutter 35 miles off Clearwater.

The boat belongs to Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, who along with Corey Smith, a free-agent defensive lineman and  former defensive end at N.C. State, and former South Florida player William Bleakley, remained missing.

Television footage showed Schuyler conscious but weak as he was being taken off a helicopter at Tampa General Hospital and placed on a stretcher. The hospital declined immediate comment.

The search area is now "substantially smaller," based on where they found the boat and Schuyler, Close said. Searchers had previously covered 16,000 square miles of ocean, and the Coast Guard said it did not receive a distress signal.

Coast Guard photos showed Schuyler wearing a yellow jacket and orange life vest and sitting on the hull of the capsized boat as a rescue cutter approached. A helicopter lowered a basket to haul him aboard.

Stuart Schuyler said his son was in serious but stable condition and that he "looks OK. ... He's got some cuts and bruises. He's dehydrated."

Schuyler's mother, Marsha Schuyler, said her son told her that he survived by thinking about how he didn't want her to go to his funeral.

The family's joy at him being found alive was tempered by the search for his friends.

"We still have three men missing, and we're not going to talk too much until we find these guys," said Stuart Schuyler. "We're all praying for them. These guys are all very close friends."

Close said the Coast Guard would search for the men for "quite awhile."

Ray Sanchez, of Tampa, a cousin of Cooper, said he was told the men were together "for a good period of time" after the boat flipped. He said the family was confident the Coast Guard would find them.

"My cousin's a powerful swimmer," he said.

The water temperature in the area was 68 degrees. After 18 hours in 64-degree water, hypothermia will set in, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class James Harless. How long someone can survive depends on how big the person is, he said. Cooper is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and Smith, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds.

Monday, waves were at 6 to 8 feet, enough for a small craft advisory.

The four left Clearwater Pass early Saturday in calm weather, but heavy winds picked up through the day, and the seas got heavy, with waves of 7 feet and higher, peaking at 15 feet on Sunday.

A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday after the men did not return as expected.

Cooper and Smith, who were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004, have been on fishing trips before, according to Ron Del Duca, Smith's agent.

Cooper, 26, has spent five seasons with five different teams, appearing in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005, but playing sparingly since. He grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix.

Smith, 29, of Richmond, Va., played collegiately at N.C. State from 1998 to 2001 and ranks among the school's all-time top performers in sacks and tackles for loss.

But as an undersized defensive end, he wasn't drafted. Instead, he made in the NFL the hard way. And in 12 games for the Detroit Lions last season, Smith, 29 had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception.

"He was a guy who had a tremendous work ethic. He loved playing football, and he came to work everyday with the idea that he was going to get better," said Tony Haynes, an editor and analyst with the Wolfpack Sports Network.

Family and friends said they weren't giving up on the strong and determined Smith.

"We're hoping and praying and thinking about all of the individuals that were on that boat and their families and just hoping that Corey is a survivor," N.C. State's senior associate athletic director, David Horning, said.

"Everybody is just crossing their fingers, and we hope he shows up," Haynes said.


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  • Hip-Shot Mar 2, 2009

    "...NEVER should have been that far out in a 21 footer under any conditions. Just too far to get back when weather changes quickly..."

    And this may not be proper timing, but they seem to have violated one of the cardinal rules of recreational boating: check the weather forecast before you leave, especially the wind and predicted water conditions(such as small craft advisories).

  • luvbailey Mar 2, 2009

    NEVER should have been that far out in a 21 footer under any conditions. Just too far to get back when weather changes quickly. Looks like a single screw, another bad idea to be that far out on one engine. I've been out that far in a 28 footer with twin props and lost one. Took 7 hours to get back in with thunderstorms all around. Not much fun. Praying that the other 3 will be found okay, but doesn't look good. Depending on type of jacket, many will only maintain floatation 24-48 hrs, plus hypothermia. Hope they find them soon.

  • affirmativediversity Mar 2, 2009

    I'm hoping they are found alive, well and SOON!

  • teacher-mom Mar 2, 2009

    I hope they are okay.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Mar 2, 2009

    This does not bode well at all.......

    "One survivor, Nick Schuyler, was found atop the overturned boat. He told his rescuers that for 12-16 hours all four men were clinging to the boat."

    Key words being "were clinging".

  • wattsun Mar 2, 2009
    they have some picts of Nick when they found him.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Mar 2, 2009

    This is the first paragraph of the story:

    "A missing boater found clinging to an overturned boat was rescued Monday off Florida's Gulf Coast, but the search continued for two NFL players and another man aboard who didn't return from a weekend fishing trip."

    Why is everyone complaining about the article naming the NFL players? It didn't name any names, but it mentioned the NFL because most of us are familiar with the NFL. they could have said "two NFL players and one McDonald's burger flipper (or whatever the other guy did for a living)" but most of us don't really care what he did for a living.

    I don't think anyone not related to these poor folks care any more about one over the other. I think we all hope equally that they all get rescued. But it's of interest to the readers to see the names of the NFL players because many of us are fans and we'd like to know who they are.

    How about cutting the writers some slack for once!

  • animated245 Mar 2, 2009

    I understood you, claytontarheel. It is always frustrating how quickly people here are to slam someone without first carefully reading what they are replying to. Back to your original point? The assertion by the original poster who must think this is some type of foul play would presume that the survivor (or any of them) decided to off his friends and risk clinging to a boat in the gulf for a few days is pretty ludicrous.

  • itsnotmeiswear Mar 2, 2009

    Go GT Im Back: Please read my post before commenting. I realize my original post was misunderstood but when I READ IT, it seems clear to me. I understand very well it is easy to flip a 21 foot boat in 14 foot seas, but it is very hard to flip a 21 ft boat on purpose AND UNDER CONTROL. Read my posts, I've flipped one. The original poster implied that this may not have been an accident which is RIDICULOUS.

  • 2 Mar 2, 2009

    You people are blaming WRAL for the article and it's issues... please realize this was not written by WRAL. It's written by someone in Florida. Take it up with them AND any media for that matter... why do you think it's always the cute kids on the news when they go missing? It's the way it is...