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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 barrelled 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.

SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

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