Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Families hope, pray for missing boaters, including two former Bucs

CLEARWATER — Family members were waiting and praying Sunday night for the safe return of four men, including two former Bucs players, missing more than a day on a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard began searching for the men in rough waters at 2 a.m. Sunday after a family member of one of the men alerted officials that they had not returned. The four — former Bucs Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and two former University of South Florida players, Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler — set out early Saturday from Clearwater.

"We are very, very hopeful. And really trusting the Lord's hand to be on their lives and bring them home safely," said Cooper's father-in-law, Harlan Dunn, from his home in Washington state.

Cooper, who turns 27 next week, is a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, and Smith, 29, is a free agent defensive end who most recently played for the Detroit Lions. Both own homes in the Tampa Bay area.

Bleakley, 25, who grew up in Citrus County, and Schuyler, 24, both live in Tampa.

The men left about 6:30 a.m. Saturday on Cooper's Everglades 21-foot center console boat from the Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater, the Coast Guard said. Their families expected them back by late afternoon or early evening.

"It's a small vessel for the conditions that are out there right now," Capt. Timothy Close, commander of the St. Petersburg Coast Guard, said Sunday.

By Sunday afternoon three aircraft and an 87-foot patrol boat were scouring a 750-square-mile area west of Clearwater Pass. Relatives provided information, including GPS coordinates from previous trips, about where the men might be fishing.

The weather was relatively mild when the men set out. Waves averaged 4 feet and winds ranged from about 11 to 18 miles per hour most of Saturday, according to the Coast Guard. But conditions deteriorated Sunday. By afternoon, seas were at 14 feet offshore and wind gusts were up to 30 mph.The water temperature was 68 degrees.

Danielle Mayes, owner of Jaxson's Bait House near the boat ramp, said Saturday had been deceptively beautiful. The weather was warm, and boaters had packed the small parking lot.

Mayes said many boaters who returned Saturday evening said they were surprised the water had gotten so rough.

Relatives and friends said Cooper was an experienced boater who had life jackets and flares onboard.

"Marquis is an avid fisherman; he goes deep sea fishing any opportunity he gets,'' Cooper's father, Bruce, a sports anchor at KPNX in Phoenix, told the Arizona Republic. "I am praying and hoping for the best.''

Former Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece played with Cooper in Tampa Bay and with Smith in Detroit.

"It's really upsetting when you know both guys really well," Nece said. "I think about a guy like Marquis being a family man (wife and one child). … It's hard."

Bucs linebacker coach Joe Barry coached Smith in both Detroit and Tampa, where he was a member of the 2002 Super Bowl team.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping maybe they're camping out on an island or key,'' he said. "You'd hate that to happen to anybody, especially two guys you know that are unbelievable human beings.''

USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was praying for the men's safe return. "My heart goes out to these two families," Leavitt said.."

Schuyler's father visited the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg on Sunday. He was shown technology used for the search, but said it gave him little solace.

"The only thing comforting right now is if they find them alive," Schuyler said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at at (727) 445-4155. Times staff writers Greg Auman, Rick Stroud and Stephen Holder, researcher Caryn Baird and photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press was used.

Have information?

The Coast Guard is asking anyone with information to call (727) 824-7506, or by marine VHF radio channel 16.

Missing boaters

• Marquis Cooper, 26, a linebacker who owns a home in Odessa, played for the Bucs in 2004-05. According to the Raiders, he played at the University of Washington and his hometown is Mesa, Ariz.

• Corey Smith, 29, a defensive end with the Detroit Lions, played for the Bucs from 2002 to 2004. He played at North Carolina State, according to the Lions.

• Will Bleakley, 25, played tight end at USF from 2002 to 2006. He was a 2002 summa cum laude graduate from Crystal River High.

• Nick Schuyler, 24, a fitness trainer, joined the Bulls in spring 2006 as a walk-on, and left in the fall of 2006.

Families hope, pray for missing boaters, including two former Bucs 03/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 10:27am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: Tampa Bay lands on Forbes 2017 ranking of best places for young professionals

    Working Life

    Consider this one more notch in the belt of Tampa Bay starting to win serious attention from millennials as place to live and build a career.

    Mike Griffin is a senior managing director in Tampa for Savills Studley Occupier Services, which provides integrated real estate services. He is also chairman for 2017 of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the first of the next generation of leadership emerging in this metro market. [Courtesy of Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce]
  2. Column: Trump beat Bush, Rubio but has become an 'establishment sellout'


    NYT’s Ross Douthat's Sunday column: Donald Trump, Establishment Sellout

  3. Haitians get a reprieve from Trump administration


    Haitians living in Florida, and the rest of the country, will be allowed to stay an additional six months, federal officials have decided.

  4. Veteran big game hunter dies after elephant, felled by gunfire, collapses on him


    Theunis Botha led his first guided hunting safari through South Africa's grasslands in 1989. A college student at the time, he used the money he received to help put himself through school.

    Big game hunter Theunis Botha, shown here with elephant tusks, was killed during a hunt in west Zimbabwe.
  5. Starting at top: O.J. Howard becomes first Bucs rookie to sign


    The Bucs have begun the process of signing their rookie draft picks and they started at the top.

    Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has signed a four-year contract with a fifth-year club option with the Bucs.