2 NFL players among boaters missing off Florida coast

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - 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 nearly a day in
choppy seas.

Smith, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, and Cooper, an
Oakland Raiders linebacker, 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
still battering the area 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.

Close said the men were traveling in a boat manufactured by
Everglades. 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 late
Sunday afternoon. 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,
after the weather picked up, said they were surprised that the
water had gotten so rough.

The Coast Guard search was mainly by air, and was hampered by
the poor weather, Close said. He said there were 14-foot seas
offshore and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. Water depth in the search
area ranges from 20 to 50 feet. The Coast Guard originally sent a
47-foot ship to search for the men around 2 a.m Sunday. It returned
to dock about eight hours later and was replaced by a larger ship,
in part because of the weather.

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.

Del Duca called Smith one of the "good guys" of the league and
was planning to start visiting teams as a free agent this week. He
said he has spoken with Smith's family and is also in touch with
Coast Guard officials.

"They've assured me that they're deploying all available
resources to look for these guys and get them back," he said.

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, played college ball at Washington. His hometown is Mesa,
Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV
in Phoenix.

Cooper told The Seattle Times in 2002 that one reason he chose
Washington was the abundant fishing.

"I like fighting the fish," Cooper told the newspaper. "And
just relaxing out there and being alone and being outside."

Lions spokesman Bill Keenist and Raiders senior executive John
Hererra said the teams are monitoring reports.

While the search continued, Cooper's pickup truck and boat
trailer remained in the parking lot near the boat launch. On the
dashboard was a one-day parking receipt that expired Sunday
morning.

"Please contact the Coast Guard," a note left tucked
underneath a windshield wiper read. "Someone was worried about
your welfare."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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