Edwin Pierre-Pata hasn't been to a University of Miami football game since the night the Hurricanes honored his slain brother's memory. And the truth is he isn't sure how he's going to feel when he's actually on the field for the next UM football game on Saturday night.
"I'm trying to avoid thinking about it," said Pata, now the tight ends coach for the Florida A&M Rattlers (4-0) who take on the 11th-ranked Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at Land Shark Stadium. "I'm trying to see it as just another game, an opportunity for our team to win a football game. But I know it's going to be much more than that.
"If I start feeling it, you won't see it. I won't let it affect my players. I'll hold it in and make sure I go out and have a good game. When it's over, it's over."
Getting over what happened on the night of Nov. 7, 2006 will never happen for Pata's family. Bryan, 22, was found shot in the back of the head, bleeding to death outside of his apartment complex in Kendall by his girlfriend just a few hours after leaving a University of Miami football practice. Police still haven't brought his killer to justice. And life has moved forward slowly for Pata's family since.
Saturday, a few family members will attend the Canes-Rattlers game. But Bryan's mother, Jeanette, who was given season tickets by UM according to Pata, will not be attending.
"She can't do it and to be honest, I don't want her to go," Edwin Pata said. "But my sisters, brother are going to go and my little nieces and nephews are going to go. They loved watching Bryan play. I remember when they used to cry 'We want to go see Sidney play.'
"This summer, we all went to see Bryan's locker at UM, took pictures. Other than moving his helmet and cleats to the top of the locker, it's pretty much the same way he left it."
The pain of his death will never leave his family. But life has moved forward -- somewhat -- says Edwin. The family hasn't done an interview in nearly a year. Jeanette, who moved to West Palm Beach after the family received a $2 million settlement from the apartment complex's insurance company, has begun concentrating on her clothing and shoe business according to Edwin. He talks to her two to three times a day and she will often stay with him in Tallahassee for two to three weeks at a time. His siblings, meanwhile, have begun refocusing on their jobs and children.
"Everybody is working and moving forward," Pata said. "Everybody's life is getting back -- not to normal, but moving forward and accepting it and getting back to normalcy. We're rebounding. Adversity has built character in our family. Everybody is kind of bonding off one another to kind of leave or help create a legacy for Bryan. We're not just trying to carry on. I think that's where we're at now."
But every week, Edwin said, different family members will take turns speaking to police about the open investigation. Nobody, he says, has given up on finding his brother's killer.
"My mom and brother and sisters were with police two days ago," Pata said. "We have appointments where they'll give us an update and tell us where they're at. They've been honest with us. Two and a half years later, they're still working hard.
"Some days I feel it won't happen and one day I'll say they'll crack the case. I'm not a detective, but there's one piece of that puzzle -- and they have a lot of pieces of the puzzle -- that I think they are just waiting on to get. I think they'll solve it. But doubt does creep in."
Football has helped Edwin, now 26, carry on. A month after Bryan died, Edwin graduated from Florida State. After spending several months helping his mother and family cope, he trained and gave the NFL a shot. It didn't pan out and he eventually applied to several graduate schools. Then, he ran into former Hurricane Rubin Carter, who was coaching Florida A&M.
"He said 'I heard about your brother.' He said 'Have you that about coaching?," Pata said. "He said 'Coaching will help occupy your mind.' I applied and came in as a grad assistant working under Renato Diaz, who was my coach at FIU. He gave me the opportunity to learn and coach the tight end position."
After Carter and his staff were fired after a 3-8 season, current coach Joe Taylor offered Pata an opportunity to stay on and prove himself. Pata did.
"Being around the game, the young players has just helped me so much," Pata said. "I feel like I'm still around Bryan. It's a blessing.
"It's funny, I still think about what Coach [Randy] Shannon told me the day after Bryan died. It's stuck with me because of all the things he went through early in his life. He said 'You have to be the centerpiece for the family, be strong.' It was firm and its helped me along the way. When he told me his story and the tragedies he went through, it just with me. He's been that centerpiece being a football coach. I want to be too."
Pata said while he doesn't talk to Shannon much, he stays in contact frequently with defensive line coach Clint Hurtt. "Bryan died on his birthday," Pata said. "No matter what, he says, Bryan will always be on his mind. We text each other every now and then. When I saw him at the coaches convention we caught up and he gave me a big hug. I was happy when I got to see him and a lot of the players this summer."
Pata held his second annual football camp in honor of his late brother at North Miami Stadium last June. He said 25 players each from Miami and FIU attended and served as coaches. He said about 300 local football players, ages 6 to 15, attended and learned life lessons. Next year, Pata says, he'll move the camp to the first week of July to have more former Canes in the NFL -- like Brandon Meriweather, Jon Beason and Kareem Brown -- who were his brother's teammates, attend the event.
"To see how much he's being involved in helping kids' lives, I know he's watching from up there and smiling," Pata said. "At our camp, we try to teach life lessons to make sure the same tragedies don't happen again. We give out character awards. We tell kids there is no cursing. It's what's needed in North Miami. I know Brian is proud. That's what we strive for as a family."
Pata said he still has the artwork donated by Hurricanes fans of his brother and cherishes them. It's among the many mementos he holds of his brother he looks at each day to remind him of what he lost.
"I have game film of him I'll watch each night just to see him moving," Pata said. "Somebody gave me this two to three second clip from fan day of him signing autographs. I'll probably rewind it 50 times. I still talk to him everyday.
"I'm grateful for my brother. I miss him to death. And I tell him every day I can't wait to see him again."