March 2, 2009 in Sports

Coast Guard searches for NFL players

Ex-Husky Cooper among missing Gulf Coast boaters
Christine Armario Associated Press
 
File Associated Press photo

Associated Press Marquis Cooper was drafted out of Washington in 2004.
(Full-size photo)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Coast Guard searched off Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sunday for a fishing boat carrying NFL players Corey Smith and Marquis Cooper and two other men missing more than a day in choppy seas.

Smith, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, and Cooper, an Oakland Raiders linebacker and former Washington Husky, were on a 21-foot vessel that left Clearwater Pass for a fishing trip Saturday morning and did not return as expected, the Coast Guard said Sunday. Crews used a helicopter and an 87-foot ship to search a 750-square mile area west of Clearwater Pass, but poor weather made the search difficult. Officials did not receive a distress signal from the missing craft.

Cooper owns the boat and he and Smith have been on fishing trips before, said Ron Del Duca, Smith’s agent. The pair had been teammates on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004. Two others were aboard: Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, both former University of South Florida players.

Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close said the weather early Saturday had been fair, but worsened toward the evening as a front moved in. The National Weather Service said seas were about 2 to 4 feet Saturday morning and increased to 3 to 5 feet in the afternoon. Late Saturday night, a small craft advisory was issued, when winds were around 20 knots and seas were up to 7 feet or more. There were no thunderstorms in the area.

At least one of the men was an experienced boater, and relatives provided the Coast Guard with GPS coordinates from previous fishing expeditions.

Close said there was no communication with the men even before the weather started to pick up. They were expected home by early evening. No sign of them or the boat had been spotted by Sunday evening. Relatives told the Coast Guard the men had lifejackets and flares onboard.

Poor weather conditions could be dangerous for a boat the size of Cooper’s.

“A 21-foot boat is a relatively small vessel to be 50 miles off shore in bad weather conditions, certainly the current weather conditions,” Close said.

Close said there was no sign yet that the men sent a distress signal.

“That’s not to say they didn’t send one out,” he said. “We didn’t receive anything.”

Danielle Mayes, owner of Jaxson’s Bait House near the ramp where the men departed, said Saturday had been deceptively beautiful. The weather was warm, and boaters had packed the small parking lot overlooking seaside condominiums and light blue waters.

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

Smith, 29, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for the winless Lions. Smith, who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, also played for the San Francisco 49ers and played college ball at North Carolina State. He lives in Richmond, Va.

Cooper, 26, has played five seasons with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, Jaguars, Steelers and Raiders. He appeared in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005, recording 30 tackles. He has played sparingly since as he has bounced between teams, appearing in 13 games and recording 10 tackles. Cooper, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, grew up in Gilbert, Ariz.

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