Eye on the U

Another Miami Hurricane, Tyrone Moss, dies too young. I remember so many of them.

Miami Hurricanes Running back Tyrone Moss dies at age 33

Former University of Miami Hurricanes running back, Tyrone Moss, 33, has died.
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Former University of Miami Hurricanes running back, Tyrone Moss, 33, has died.

Another Miami Hurricane is gone too soon.

Another reason for me to look back, be sad, smile and gather my perspective.

Approaching the midnight hour on Thursday, I saw on social media that former University of Miami running back great Tyrone Moss had died.

“What?” I first thought. “Horrible.”

Here’s my story about that, as of 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 27, 2018, as I write this reflection.

Tyrone was only 33, and though there are various reports on the Internet of how he died, I’m waiting to get the official cause.

My memories of Tyrone are that he was a very sweet, extremely friendly, outgoing young man who laughed a lot and had this huge smile that he flashed constantly.

Joel Rodriguez, UM’s director of player development who was the starting senior center when Tyrone was a sophomore, told us in 2004 that Tyrone was “like a bowling ball going downhill. He leans forward and runs over guys.’’

Tyrone, nicknamed “Thunder Thighs’’ by his teammates, had these huge calves and was a thick-bodied beast. He struggled catching the ball, but his legs couldn’t be stopped.

When he came out out of Pompano Beach Ely High, he was the most prolific running back in Broward County history, rushing for a career 7,407 yards and 108 touchdowns. He finished with 1,942 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns at UM — fifth all-time in UM career touchdowns, tied with Duke Johnson, Melvin Bratton and Mark Walton. He’s 14th in UM career rushing yardage.

“He was a great kid,’’ former UM running backs coach Don Soldinger, who coached Tyrone his first three seasons, told me this morning. “Even when you pushed him he always had a positive attitude and smile on his face. He understood that he needed to be pushed.”

“I always felt that he had just as much talent as anybody who came through UM. He had to work on his receiving skills, but he was such a good kid and I wanted to see him be successful.’’

Moss never made it to the NFL after tearing his ACL and then having subsequent surgery on the same left knee.

“That was my biggest disappointment,’’ Soldinger said. “He was an NFL player that never made it to the NFL.’’

Moss had his demons as well. He was implicated in the Nevin Shapiro scandal for going on the record and confirming to Yahoo! in 2011 that he took $1,000 from Shapiro. Later, in an interview with the Miami Herald from his parents’ home in Pompano Beach, he said he was not the one who told Yahoo! that, though that part of the interview had been taped and played for the Herald.

“I never admitted to receiving $1,000 from anyone,’’ Moss told me. “I’ve never taken no phone call from anyone. I have not talked to anyone directly. I don’t know how this story got out about me, but it was a shame that I wake up and see all this negative publicity about me.’’

Besides his uplifiting demeanor and great spirit, I remember that great talent. I was standing on the sideline at Clemson Memorial Stadium on Sept. 17, 2005, when Tyrone’s 25-yard touchdown run in the third overtime gave No. 13 Miami a 36-30 victory over No. 20 Clemson.

That was one of the loudest games I’ve ever covered. Moss finished with 139 yards rushing and three touchdowns — two in overtime.

Can you imagine his smile after that.

Rest in Peace, Tyrone.

FROM FEBRUARY 17, 2017: LEONARD MYERS, A GOOD SOUL, DIES OF CANCER

Got the word this morning that former cornerback Leonard Myers has died of cancer. He was 38.

I immediately thought of Leonard’s father, Leonard Sr., who died of cancer in January 1996 during Myers’ junior year at Fort Lauderdale Dillard High.

Then I thought of Leonard Jr.’s own children when I talked to him last in 2010: three daughters — Lauren Brinee, now 16; Brittany, 14; and Lia, 11.

Before every defensive play, Leonard Jr. would kiss his right forefinger, pound his right fist to his heart and point toward the sky in tribute to his father.

“My dad used to say, ‘Don’t take anything for granted. Play hard — no regrets.’’’ Myers said.

Leonard was a kind-hearted, friendly, talkative young man when I knew him. He came to UM in the middle of program-crushing NCAA sanctions, one of a group of greats such as Dan Morgan and Reggie Wayne and Al Blades (RIP) and Santana Moss and Mike Rumph and Ed Reed, intent on bringing the Hurricanes back to prominence.

I last spoke to Leonard in 2010, when we chatted about his Super Bowl memory from February 2002, when his Patriots defeated the Rams in his first season out of UM. He played with Miami from 1997 through 2000:

“I suited up to play and in warm-up we had an O-lineman go down, so I had to unsuit right then, “ he said. “I had been included in a couple of packages and was really excited.”

But my most vivid memory of Leonard is sitting with him and Dan Morgan and Dan’s dad and Leonard’s mom, Mae, and several of Myers’ relatives in the Fort Lauderdale house in which Leonard grew up. It was early December 2000 and we watched the late-night game between Oklahoma and Kansas, because if Kansas won, UM would have gone to the national championship to play FSU (the team UM beat in the regular season) instead of the Sooners. Florida State ended up losing to Oklahoma in the title game, and UM had to wait until the next season to win its fifth (and last) national championship.

“It’s ridiculous,’’ Myers said that night after the Oklahoma victory that took UM out of the title game. “The BCS has taken away what we did on the field and put it into the hands of computers. ... This is so disappointing.’’

Leonard went on to have a lot of good memories. I just wish he were around to have more of them.

Rest in Peace.

If YOU HAVE TIME AND THE EMOTIONAL FORTITUDE, FOLLOWING IS WHAT I WROTE FOR THE EYE ON THE U BLOG ON FEB. 26, 2014, AFTER FORMER SAFETY JOJO NICOLAS DIED. HE WAS TEXTING WHILE DRIVING. I INCLUDE SOME MEMORIES, EXCERPTS FROM STORIES OF OTHER CANES’ DEATHS I HAVE SADLY COVERED, INCLUDING SEAN TAYLOR’S AND AL BLADES’. I ADDED THE STORY I WROTE FROM JOJO’S FUNERAL.

Too many sad memories. Now JoJo is gone, but I’m hoping he’s reunited with baby LJ, his namesake.

Another Hurricane gone too soon.

I’ve covered this beat through several UM deaths, all of them horrible.

Linebacker Chris Campbell died at age 21 in a one-car accident in Coral Gables in 2002, a month after the National Championship victory against Nebraska. He developed an infection in his knee before the bowl game and couldn’t play, and I can still recall him sitting there disappointed a few days before the bowl game, talking to me in a daze. And I can also still remember visiting the people who owned the house in Coral Gables — outside of which he barreled into a huge tree and died from head trauma. He was found to be under the influence of alcohol. Tragic.

DAY OF SORROW AND SHOCK: ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S GONE’

BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN, sdegnan@herald.com

Ed Wilkins got the call from University of Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe at 9 a.m. Saturday. He immediately began to weep.

“I broke down,” said Wilkins, a lineman who learned from Kehoe that teammate Chris Campbell, a senior linebacker, was killed when the car he was driving slammed into a tree near campus at about 4 a.m. — three hours after Wilkins saw him for the last time at CocoWalk in Coconut Grove.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Nor can his teammates and coaches, who were told Saturday through a chain reaction of phone calls, or in person by head coach Larry Coker, that the 21-year-old Campbell, of Mt. Pleasant, Texas, was dead.

“He was a beautiful kid,” Kehoe said. “And I send out my prayers to his family. To see someone like that get his life snuffed out. . . . You realize how precious life is and how lucky we are to have each other.”

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Safety Al Blades died in March of 2003, also in a car accident following a birthday celebration — his 26th. His death was especially shocking. I got the call at home and was sick about it. This is the start of the story I wrote about Al, a really funny, kind of wild guy whose older brothers starred at UM (including 1987 Jim Thorpe Award winner Bennie, now in the College Football Hall of Fame):

“Former University of Miami football player Al Blades — the gregarious, well-loved free safety whose fiery play and funny personality inspired his coaches and teammates — died early Thursday after the car in which he was a passenger struck a bridge abutment and plunged into a canal.

Blades, father of a 3-year-old son, Al Jr., celebrated his 26th birthday Wednesday.

“The driver of the car, which witnesses told police was racing with another car on Northwest 22nd Avenue in Miami-Dade, was Fort Lauderdale resident Martel Johnson, 26, a nephew of Blades’ brother-in-law.

Blades was transported by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue to Parkway Regional Medical Center in North Miami Beach, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 2:37 a.m.

“He was a drowning victim,” Parkway spokesman Drew Landmeier said. “There was nothing we could do.”

Blades’ father, Frederick Blades, 66, was admitted to Parkway when his blood pressure skyrocketed upon arriving with his wife, Rosa, to identify their son. He was in stable condition Thursday night and expected to be released today.

“I want everybody to know,” said Blades’ brother, Bennie, “that there were two things Al loved in this whole world while he was here - his family and the University of Miami. I don’t care where he went, he’d talk about those two.”

Said Rosa Blades, 64, who has six other children: “Just ask everyone to pray for us.”

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Everytime I wind around that hospital, which is now called Jackson North Medical Center, to get onto I-95, I think of Al. EVERYtime.

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And on Nov. 7, 2006, the lead to my Bryan Pata story: “A University of Miami season of tumult turned horrific Tuesday night when Hurricanes defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed at his apartment complex in Kendall.

“He was shot in the head,” Miami Central coach Anthony Saunders said Tuesday night. “He is dead.”

I remember writing the story and driving with our photographer out to his apartment complex, and all the stories in the aftermath. The case, ruled a homicide, is still unsolved.

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Sean Taylor in 2007 came next.

It was heart-wrenching from beginning to end. This is the beginning of our story from his funeral...

MOVING TRIBUTE: UM FAMILY MOURNS ONE OF ITS ‘BROTHERS’

BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN sdegnan@MiamiHerald.com

They walked one by one, side by side, into Florida International University’s Pharmed Arena — well scrubbed, well dressed and pensive.

Jonathan Vilma. Reggie Wayne. Edgerrin James. Phillip Buchanon. Antrel Rolle.

Jon Beason. Frank Gore. Andre Johnson. Roscoe Parrish. Devin Hester.

Greg Olsen. Jeremy Shockey. Bubba Franks. Chris Myers. Buck Ortega.

Javon Nanton. Ethenic Sands. Santana Moss. Vernon Carey. Clinton Portis.

And so on, and so on.

Dozens of former University of Miami football players and coaches converged in Miami on Monday to remember Sean Taylor, their fallen teammate and UM brother who died last Tuesday from a gunshot wound.

“Bryan Pata, Kevin Everett, Sean . . . We’ve had it rough recently,” said Buffalo Bills wide receiver Parrish, who came to UM with Taylor in 2001. “It’s a tough experience for all of us when things like this happen. We’re a unit. We’re the U. We’re family. If something happens to anybody, they’ve got all our support.”

Parrish, accompanied by Chicago Bears sensation Hester, couldn’t get over the way Taylor died: in his home, his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter hiding under the covers in the same room.

“For something like this to happen, and the way it happened -- he was at his house in his bed with his family. It’s crazy. It makes you be like, ‘Wow.’ You have to be careful out there and watch your surroundings. It wasn’t like he was at a club or anything. He was at his home. That’s the most scary part about it.”

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And now, JoJo, less than a week before his 25th birthday.

I copied this quote from an interview with JoJo in September of 2011, about a month after his baby, Joseph Jr., died.

Q: “Obviously you’ve had a tough time emotionally. How are you doing? It seems like you’ve been strong.”

JoJo: “Yeah, I’m handling it very well. Of course I miss my son dearly. Each day I just dedicate coming out here to him. Being around this team, guys, with the support from the coaches and the team, that’s how I’ve been strong. Being here for them and wanting to play for them just helps me to keep going and knowing my son is always with me in spirit, I play for him everyday. I feel like I would never be able to quit knowing he’s with me.”

Concluded JoJo: “It’s going to be with me every day because it’s my creation, so me and his mother, we think about it, talk about it every day. We still have his leftover blankets and everything like that. I carry his blanket with me to every game. I always feel like a piece of him is with me. He was born at a pound, four ounces.’‘

Poor JoJo went much too soon. I hope he’s with LJ again.

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MY STORY FROM JOJO’S FUNERAL SERVICE IN EARLY MARCH 2014:

Former Hurricane football player JoJo Nicolas was remembered Saturday as “the quiet storm’’ at the University of Miami.

He was remembered as a little brother who taught his three older brothers not to fight.

He was remembered as responsible and studious and devoted to an infant son, born prematurely, who preceded him in death.

And he was remembered as a father and son who died too young but left a thriving five-month-old child and nearly 25 years of memories to keep his spirit alive.

“Daddy, you lost your only son, but now you have JoJo’s son,’’ Nicolas’ uncle – pastor Walter Horn – told Josselet Nicolas in a moving, rhythmic eulogy accompanied by a four-piece ensemble at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church in Miami. “Can I tell you something? JoJo just made MVP.’’

Nicolas, who grew up in FloridaCity and graduated from Homestead High in 2007, died a week ago Wednesday, five days shy of his 25th birthday. He crashed his Lexus sedan into a tractor-trailer while heading west on the MacArthur Causeway following an early birthday celebration on Miami Beach.

His brother Elliot Davis said the family is still awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology reports, but that Nicolas was on the phone with his girlfriend and received a text from former UM teammate Graig Cooper moments before the crash.

Nicolas told his girlfriend to “hold on, it’s Cooper texting him,’’ Davis said. “Then she heard the crash. The second he took his eyes off the road the crash happened.’’

“This is definitely a hard moment,’’ said Antrel Rolle, a New York Giants safety who grew up with fellow safety Nicolas and commissioned a painting, on an easel at the funeral, of Nicolas wearing his UM uniform on one side of the canvas and in his former New York Giants uniform on the other. “Very rarely do you find guys with such good character as JoJo Nicolas. He had a certain persona that could brighten anyone’s day.

“It’s extremely unfortunate… but God makes no mistakes. By this happening I’m more than positive it saved the lives of a thousand others – myself, for example. It’s a tragic accident, just a simple text looking down. It just goes as a lesson: stay off your phone while driving. As we’ve seen, anything can happen in the blink of an eye.’’

Rolle was one of several former Hurricanes who attended the funeral, among them Shayon Green, Matt Bosher, Ryan Hill, Sam Shields, Brandon McGee, Javarris James, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Richard Gordon and Bruce Johnson. Nicolas was buried afterward at neighboring GracelandCemetery in the Richmond Heights neighborhood.

Coach Al Golden sat by himself in the church, with many of his assistants and other staff members nearby. Cooper attended, but chose not to comment.

Team chaplains Steve DeBardelaben and Steve Caldwell were among about 300 churchgoers, with Caldwell delivering a short, but eloquent reflection.

Caldwell asked everyone in the “UM family’’ to stand while he spoke, saying Nicolas, “the quiet storm,’’ was a strong leader and thanking his family “for loaning us a wonderful man.’’

Nicolas is survived by 5-month-old son Jayden, Nicolas’ mother Sharon Grant, father Josselet Nicolas, and brothers Elliot Davis, Aaron Davis and Abner Davis. All except for Abner, of Jacksonville, are from the Homestead area.

He also leaves his grandmother Carolyn Davis, several aunts and uncles and dozens of nieces, nephews and cousins.

“Tragically he lost his son and there was nothing I could say to comfort him,’’ Elliot Davis said during the service, referring to the late baby Joseph, who was born four months premature in 2011 weighing 1 pound 4 ounces, and died Aug. 19, 2011. The baby’s photo leaned against Nicolas’ left arm in the coffin.

“…God blessed him again with another son,’’ Davis said of Jayden, who was held by Nicolas’ mother during the service. “I look in his eyes and I see JoJo looking back at me and it’s remarkable. ...We still have him here with Baby Jayden. We still have him here.’’

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