MOBILE, Ala. — Washington State QB Luke Falk and G Cole Madison began their practices at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday with heavy hearts, still reeling from last week's news that Cougars QB Tyler Hilinski had committed suicide.
They remembered their friend and teammate, just 21 when he died, at a candlelight vigil on campus. And Falk is taking another step this week, trading his No. 4 jersey to wear Hilinski's No. 3 in Saturday's game. It's a tribute, but also a way to get more people talking about the dangers of suicide, hoping to avoid more such tragedies.
"Words don't describe the hurt that I think we all felt as a team, seeing his family," Falk said. "It's always going to be with us. We really want Tyler to be remembered, and for this to be talked about. When suicide is the second-leading cause of death for men from 18 to 45 years old, it should be talked about. We should do something about it."
Falk said it might be harder for athletes to share that they're struggling with depression, given the invincibility sometimes assigned to popular athletes, even at a young age.
"At times, we feel like we can't express our emotions because we're in a masculine sport," Falk said. "Him being a quarterback, people look up to you as a leader, so he probably felt like he couldn't talk to anybody. We have to change some of that. We have to have resources, and not have any more stigma about people going to that."
Falk said wearing Hilinski's jersey will be an emotional gesture for him in Saturday's game, but one he's proud to do in his memory.
"He was an amazing person, an amazing soul," he said. "This guy was one of the most outgoing, bubbly … just a guy you wanted to be around. … All of us that were close to him go back and ask ourselves, 'Were there signs?' What could we have done? A little bit of guilt. I wish I could have given him one more hug, one more pat on the butt, to let him know that he's loved."
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There are two locals on the starting offensive lines, with East Lake's Mason Cole (Michigan) working at center on the North and Lakewood's Isaiah Wynn (Georgia) working at guard on the South squad. … Bucs general manager Jason Licht and his staff watched from the stands at Tuesday's practice, as did several Bucs assistant coaches. Hall of Fame QBs Dan Marino and John Elway also watched, as did former Bucs safety and current 49ers GM John Lynch. … Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Auburn's Gus Malzahn were among the college coaches in attendance.