Lobendahn hit hard

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

Spending the winter in Honolulu doesn't prevent Joe Lobendahn from keeping up on off-season news from the football world.

He knows, for example, that his Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been retooled dramatically under new head coach Mike Kelly.

But the one piece of news that really grabbed the linebacker's attention this year had nothing to do with the trading or release of a player.

This was about life and death.

Last weekend, Lobendahn received a text message he won't soon forget.

"Did you hear what happened to Coop?" the message said.

Coop was Marquis Cooper, a teammate of Lobendahn's at the University of Washington. Fellow linebackers, Lobendahn and Cooper used to battle it out for the same spot on the Huskies.

Earlier this week, Cooper was battling for his life somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, after his boat capsized during a fishing trip.

"Wow," was Lobendahn's first reaction. "I was watching ESPN and they came out with the story that other players were on the boat, too, and that Corey Smith was one of them."

And just like that, Lobendahn was broadsided again.

"I knew both," he said. "I went to school with Marquis, and I played with Corey Smith when I was in Detroit, during the pre-season and in camp.

"Man, this is just sad."

Yesterday, back in Seattle, home of the Huskies, for off-season workouts, Lobendahn had to confront the probability his former teammates will never be found alive.

"It's a hard time," Lobendahn said. "But I'm still saying a prayer. And I'm not going to stop saying it until they announce it. Hopefully, they're still alive."

Lobendahn made those comments before hearing Cooper's family, whom he met while in college, called off its own, private search.

The Coast Guard had called off its search-and-rescue mission earlier this week.

"I knew him pretty well while I was here with him," Lobendahn, 26, said of Cooper. "He was a year older than me, and we played the same position for two years. He was really nice, real family oriented. A great football player. His family was also nice. I met them a few times, and they were very loving.

"It's unfortunate. He has a family of his own."

Missing and presumed drowned along with Cooper and Smith is former University of South Florida player William Bleakley.

Only former college player Nick Schuyler was found alive, Monday, clinging to the overturned boat.

Drafted by Tampa Bay, Cooper left the Huskies following the 2004 season, and has spent time with five NFL teams, most recently the Oakland Raiders.

Lobendahn followed in his footsteps at Washington, taking over his starting weakside linebacker spot in '05 and becoming the Huskies' defensive MVP, just like Cooper had been.

Signed with Bombers

But while Cooper was drafted and made the NFL, Lobendahn couldn't convert his free-agent tryout in Detroit into a job, and signed with the Bombers a year ago.

Filling in for an injured Barrin Simpson last season, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands -- until going down with a knee injury.

That little bit of misfortune seems so insignificant now.

Just like news the Bombers traded another linebacker, Zeke Moreno, to Toronto, improving Lobendahn's chances of becoming a full-time starter.

Those things are just details, put in perspective by the events of the last seven days.

The last time Lobendahn saw Cooper was two years ago. Now it will likely be the last time, ever.

"Life is precious," Lobendahn said.

"You've just got to think twice about what you're doing in life and where you're headed."

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


Videos

Photos