'Waves were just so much'

Coast Guard ends search for three missing boaters

Nfl Notes

March 04, 2009|By From Sun news services

As the four fishing buddies huddled together in the dark, clinging to their capsized boat miles off the Florida coast, a helicopter's light shone down upon them.

For a while, as the boat drifted in the rough seas, Nick Schuyler could even see the city lights from shore. But the men drifted away as the hours passed, Schuyler told a friend after he was rescued, with the two NFL players aboard disappearing first, leaving him and his college football teammate hanging onto the hull.

"The waves were just so much. They never got a break," said Schuyler's friend, Scott Miller.

The Coast Guard called off the search yesterday for the other three: Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, 26, the boat's owner; free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, 29; and former University of South Florida player William Bleakley, 25, three days after their boat capsized Saturday.

Miller said Schuyler told him from his Tampa hospital room that the men initially hung together, trying to come up with a plan. Bleakley swam underneath the boat and retrieved three life jackets and a cushion.

Easygoing and an avid fisherman, Bleakley gave the others the vests, Schuyler told Miller, and initially was the one clinging to the cushion.

"Will was there as long as he remembered," Miller said. "I want everyone to know Will's a hero in this whole thing."

Bleakley and Schuyler were former South Florida teammates, and the survivor, 24, had helped Cooper and Smith train at a gym.

After scouring about 24,000 square miles of ocean, the Coast Guard said it had done all it could to locate the men. Capt. Timothy Close said officials were sure that if there were any more survivors, they would have been found.

Bleakley's father appreciated the Coast Guard's effort.

"I think they were not to be found," Robert Bleakley said.

Shortly before the search's conclusion was announced, the missing men's family and friends embraced and sobbed outside the Coast Guard station. They left without talking with reporters.

"He'll be an inspiration for me for a long time," Robert Bleakley said later of his son. "He always has been. I told everybody, I call him my hero."

Bengals:: Free-agent running back Cedric Benson accepted a two-year deal to stay with Cincinnati. Last season, Benson rushed for 747 yards on 214 carries and caught 20 passes for 185 yards. Benson, 26, will be the centerpiece of an offense that was rated the lowest in the league last season.

Giants:: Plaxico Burress could be welcomed back by New York - if the Super Bowl star can straighten out his legal problems stemming from a weapons charge and get his life back in order. "Right now he is still a Giant and if things work out and he's on board with what we want coming back, we'd love to have him back," general manager Jerry Reese said.

Broncos: : Denver insists it isn't trying to trade Jay Cutler and said coach Josh McDaniels and the Pro Bowl quarterback are scheduled to meet next week to try to patch up their strained relationship. Cutler was angered last weekend when his name came up in trade talks.

Cardinals:: Free-agent quarterback Kurt Warner instructed agent Mark Bartelstein to make a two-year, $23 million offer to stay with Arizona, ESPN.com reported. Bartelstein said Warner's proposal would include $12 million in guarantees and a $1 million-a-year deduction if Arizona can successfully renegotiate the contract of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Buccaneers:: Tampa Bay signed running back Derrick Ward to a four-year, $17 million contract. He rushed for 1,025 yards and two touchdowns with the Giants last season.

Seahawks: : T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the top receiver on the free-agent market, signed the reported five-year deal agreed to Monday.

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