TAMPA — Former University of South Florida defensive lineman Elkino Watson was killed and another aspiring football player was injured during a stabbing early Sunday morning in Ybor City, police said.
Watson, 23, and Desmond Horne, 22, were stabbed in a parking lot near the Orpheum nightclub at 1915 E 7th Ave. around 2:45 a.m. after a fight broke out at 19th Street and 7th Avenue, according to Tampa police.
Both men ran from the scene and were then transported to a local hospital, where Watson died as a result of his injuries, authorities said. Horne was in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries.
"We are deeply saddened and stunned by the tragic loss of Elkino Watson and the injuries suffered by Desmond Horne," USF football coach Willie Taggart said in a statement. "Kino was a tremendous young man with a great smile and a big heart who was very much loved by our USF football family and will be sorely missed. Our hearts hurt for his daughter and his family."
Watson was a four-year letterman for the Bulls from 2011 to 2014 and played in 45 games, according to USF Athletics. In his senior year, he recorded 36 tackles, including 7 1/2 for a loss, with two sacks and a forced fumble. As an undrafted free agent, he spent some time in the Chicago Bears minicamp earlier this year, hoping to make the team but not getting selected.
Horne had competed unsuccessfully for a spot with the Bulls during this year's spring practices, USF Athletics said.
"There is nothing more profoundly tragic and sad than when a member of our student-athlete family, current or past, passes away or is seriously injured," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Elkino Watson and with Desmond Horne and his family as he makes his recovery.
Watson and Horne both had lived in the Miami area, according to Tampa police. Fellow Miami native and former USF defensive lineman Todd Chandler said he remembered Watson as "a fun guy to be around."
"Everyone who knew Kino knew what you were going to get from him," he said. "A jokester, a big guy who could really dance, someone who you knew always had your back no matter what. Every time we took the field, we said the same thing to each other: 'Let's do this for the crib,' meaning let's go out here and ball out for those people back home."
The Orpheum held what it billed an "official" USF-Florida A&M after party following the Bulls' season-opening 51-3 rout of FAMU Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. In its news release, the school said the party was not an official university function.
A woman who said she is the mother of Watson's 6-month-old daughter told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday that Watson was stabbed four times in the chest and upper arms outside The Orpheum shortly after 3 a.m.
Diamond Hall of Tampa said Sunday a man whom she didn't know made advances at her inside the nightclub and, when she resisted, punched her in the face.
When Watson confronted him outside the club, the man stabbed Watson repeatedly, Hall said. A 21-year-old math education major at USF, Hall said she couldn't see the type of weapon the man used in the attack.
"He ran in the opposite direction," Hall said. "We had never seen the guy before."
A Tampa police spokesman said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation.
Watson, whom Hall said had been working locally in sales while trying to complete his degree, was transported to Tampa General Hospital. "They worked on him for like, an hour, and then he passed," she said.
Hall said Watson also had a 3-year-old daughter and was expecting a third child (a boy), with different women.
One of 11 siblings raised in Miami's inner city, he was the first person in his family to attend college. His mother, LaTarsha Watson, told the Times in 2011 his first name meant "African king," though he was known as Bubba to his family.
"He brought amazing energy in everything he did," former Bulls receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown said on Sunday. "Always had a smile on his face and he loved his daughters and his mother unconditionally, and the reason why he worked so hard was for them."
Friends and former teammates took to social media to react to Watson's death.
"RIP Elkino Watson," tweeted FIU running backs coach Tim Harris Jr., an assistant at Miami's Booker T. Washington High during Watson's all-state prep career there. "He was great young man from a great family. Sad to hear you were taken away from us all so soon."
"Seems like yesterday we first got to USF man," tweeted St. Louis Rams rookie OL Darrell Williams, who arrived in Tampa with Watson in 2011. "RIP Kino."
"Just talked to my boy (Watson) last night after the game," Bulls cornerback Johnny Ward tweeted. "Our last conversation he said it's 'our time' but God needed another angel."
Police have not publicly identified a suspect or released any other information. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers with anonymous tips and they will be eligible for a $3,000 reward.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.