One of Marquis Cooper's football coaches once said, "When he tackles you, you know you've been tackled."
Cooper, 26, is skinny for a linebacker, the position at which he excelled at the University of Washington and the one he has played for six pro teams, including the Buccaneers, during a four-year career.
On the water, the place Cooper longed to be, he is known for big tackle. He has 60 fishing rods in his garage, massive reels with fishing line "the size of chain link," said cousin Ray Sanchez. That's the kind of gear you need to catch the big fish he likes to chase way off shore.
"I always joked he should have his own fishing show," Sanchez said.
Cooper's love of the outdoors started early.
"His version of a great time is out on the water. He can pull up a fish and tell you exactly what it is he caught. I went with him two years ago, and I didn't like it at all," said his father, Bruce Cooper, a sports anchor for KPNX-TV in Phoenix. He raised the possibility of drowning.
"These boats don't leak," he said Marquis told him.
Cooper's other loves are his wife, Rebekah, and 3-year-old daughter, Delaney.
Rebekah Cooper has grown accustomed to her husband being on the water most Saturdays. "There's nowhere else I would feel more comfortable than with him on a boat," she said.
But she sensed something was wrong Saturday when she didn't get the call telling her he was back ashore. "That was my first red flag."
Cooper's father described him as "a fun-loving, gregarious person. He's always smiling, everywhere he goes."
Former Buccaneers linebacker Shelton Quarles, who mentored the younger player during his two seasons in Tampa, remembers cracking jokes with Cooper in the locker room and cooking dinner for him.
"I remember when he first got to Tampa, all he talked about was buying a boat and getting out there on the water," Quarles said.
Times staff writers Lane DeGregory, Stephen Holder, Gary Shelton, Luis Perez and Leonora LaPeter Anton contributed to this report.