The Coast Guard plans to end its search for two NFL players and a third man lost at sea, a Coast Guard official said Tuesday.
The search for Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, NFL free agent Corey Smith and former college football player William Bleakley will be called off at sundown Tuesday, or around 6:30 p.m. ET. A fourth man, Nick Schuyler, was found alive and sitting atop an overturned boat about 40 miles west of Florida’s Gulf Coast on Monday afternoon. “We’re extremely confident that if there were any [other] survivors on the surface of the water that we would have found them,” Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close said at a news conference in Clearwater, Florida. The four friends had embarked on a fishing trip in a 21-foot single-engine boat from the Seminole Boat Ramp near Clearwater Pass about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard said. The search was launched early Sunday after friends and relatives realized the men had not returned. Watch the Coast Guard say it will call of the search » Close said the Coast Guard has scanned about 24,000 square miles of ocean. It found a life jacket and a cooler about 16 miles from where the boat was found, Close said Tuesday. Schuyler, who, like Bleakley, was a former University of South Florida football player, was found Monday afternoon with an overturned 21-foot fishing boat. He was about 40 miles west of Egmont Key, Florida. He told his Coast Guard rescuers that the boat was anchored Saturday evening when waves overturned it, according to Close. Schuyler told rescuers that all four men clung to the boat for a time but then became separated, Close said. Hours before Close announced the pending end of the search, Cooper’s father, Bruce Cooper, said his son’s disappearance was “just gut wrenching.” “It’s just left me zapped of any energy,” Bruce Cooper said Tuesday. “I know this, he’s a fighter,” he said, adding that his son was an undersized linebacker both at the University of Washington and in the NFL. “He doesn’t back down. He’s just an extreme fighter. What I’m holding on to is that he’s out in the water right now, just fighting.” Marquis Cooper loved being on the water and was an experienced boater, his father said. Bruce Cooper had recently taken a 14-hour fishing trip with his son. Watch Bruce Cooper say that his son loved fishing »
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“I just told him I didn’t feel comfortable looking in all directions and not seeing land,” he said. “We laughed and joked about it. That’s just who he is. It’s his love.” Schuyler’s mother, Marcia, was the first to see her son in the hospital, she told WTSP-TV, a CNN affiliate in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida. He is being treated for dehydration and hypothermia, his parents said. “He told me, ‘Mom, I kept saying you’re not gonna go to my funeral.’ He said that’s what kept him hanging on,” she said. “He was so dehydrated he was semiconscious. He did not really talk,” when his family first saw him, said Schuyler’s father, Stuart Schuyler. “The only thing he did say was: ‘Hi, Pops.'” Watch Nick Schuyler’s father overjoyed that his son is safe » Rescuers were using computer models to try to find the three still-missing boaters earlier Tuesday, the Coast Guard said. Rescuers flew a C-130 plane and sent out three boats and two helicopters equipped with thermal imaging technology in the hopes of finding the missing men. Based on what Schuyler told the Coast Guard, officials were able to narrow the search from 16,000 square miles. Watch Schuyler being moved on a stretcher » Schuyler last saw his three friends at 2 a.m. Monday, his father told WTSP on Monday. All four boaters were wearing life vests. See photos of rescue » Cooper’s wife, Rebekah, told WTSP on Sunday that fishing “is his first love.” “I have a lot of faith in him out there,” she said. Watch relatives, friends express concern for missing boaters » Smith and Cooper were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for part of the 2004 season when Cooper was a rookie, according to the NFL’s Web site.
Smith, who entered the league with Tampa Bay in 2002, went on to play for the Washington Redskins before moving to the Detroit Lions for the 2006 season. Cooper has played for six teams in his five-season career. Bleakley lettered from 2004 to 2006 as a tight end for USF, and Schuyler was a walk-on defensive end in 2006, but he never played in a game, according to a spokesman for the university’s athletics department.