CLEARWATER, FLA. — The Coast Guard on Monday narrowed the search area for two NFL players, including former N.C. State defensive lineman Corey Smith, and a third man missing since a weekend fishing trip off the Florida Gulf Coast.
Earlier Monday, crews rescued Nick Schuyler, a former University of South Florida player, clinging to their capsized boat 35 miles off Clearwater.
Still missing as of Monday night were Smith, a 29-year-old free agent who played for the Wolfpack from 1999 to 2002; Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, 26; and former South Florida player William Bleakley, 25.
As the search for the three missing men continued, friends from Smith's time at N.C. State described him to The News & Observer as "a straight up guy."
Schuyler told rescuers that the boat the four friends were aboard was anchored when it flipped Saturday evening in rough seas, said Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close.
Family members were told the four clung to their overturned 21-foot Everglades fishing boat, owned by Cooper, for 12 to 16 hours Saturday night and early Sunday before three slipped away.
"I've heard from a lot of N.C. State players and everybody's praying for him,'' said Smith's Wolfpack teammate Clayton White, now an assistant coach at Stanford.
White called Smith "a straight up guy" and a "great team player" at State.
Though overlooked in the NFL draft, he has played seven seasons with three pro teams, winning a Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay.
Smith, a Richmond, Va., native, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception last season for the winless Detroit Lions.
He was a standout player at N.C. State; former Wolfpack assistant coach Joe Pate said Smith "epitomized what a true student-athlete should be.''
"He didn't have the most talent but gave 100 percent every snap, and he gave 100 percent in the classroom," said Pate, who now holds a support position in N.C. State's athletics department.
"He was as nice a person as you would ever meet [and] had the respect of all his teammates and coaches," Pate said. "He was just a pleasure to be around."
As the Coast Guard continued its search for Smith and the boat's two other missing occupants, Schuyler was in serious but stable condition at a Tampa hospital, his father said.
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 his father, Stuart Schuyler. "We're all praying for them. These guys are all very close friends."
Calm turned to drama
The four friends 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. The Coast Guard said it did not receive a distress signal.
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.
Smith's family planned to drive to Florida from Richmond today, after snowy weather in the East made getting a flight impossible, said Yolanda Newbill, one of Smith's sisters. She said they have been in contact with the Coast Guard every few hours since the search began.
"We have never lost hope," Newbill said. "We have total faith that [he] will be coming home."
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