FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Garrett Uekman was remembered Monday night for his love for Arkansas, and those who knew him best said his impact on the university was far greater than the short time he spent there.
Several thousand mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil in Bud Walton Arena to remember Uekman, a redshirt freshman tight end who died suddenly Sunday.
Uekman’s picture remained on the arena’s videoboard throughout the ceremony, and those in attendance wore stickers that had black ribbons wrapped in red with a white “88” on them, in honor of Uekman’s number.
“This is a sad day for the Razorback family,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “And a tragedy that reminds us just how precious life is.
“Moments like this make you realize just how insignificant wins and losses can be and how important the people around you are. Garrett was important to all of us.”
Uekman’s parents, Danny and Michelle, and his sister, Meagan, led the football team into the arena and were followed by Petrino and his family. Several players wiped tears away and held their heads down as they took their seats.
Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart was among a group of speakers that included Razorbacks sophomore Austin Tate, who called Uekman his “best friend” and a “brother.” The ceremony ended with the approximately 2,500 candles providing light in the darkened arena.
“I speak for the whole team when I say Garrett Uekman will always be a part of us,” Tate said.
Uekman, 19, was last seen playing video games Sunday morning and was found unresponsive in his dorm room an hour later. University police said they won’t release the incident report until after the autopsy report is released.
The No. 3 Razorbacks (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) face No. 1 LSU (11-0, 7-0) in Baton Rouge on Friday.
“He would tell (me) to not be sitting around crying,” Tate said. “He would probably kick our butts and tell us we’re wasting our time and need to get ready for LSU.
“He loved being a part of this team and cherished every moment that he was here. I just wish I had a lifetime of knowing Garrett Uekman.”
LSU coach Les Miles expressed his condolences Monday afternoon and said he tried to call Petrino but was unable to get through. Uekman was recruited by the Tigers before signing with Arkansas.
“He visited here, and we thought the world of him,” Miles said. “He conducted himself very well on our campus, and I recall he came here with his mother. Again, it is very unfortunate. Death is never timely and certainly is most difficult when you are young.”
Earlier Monday, more than 500 people went to Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys, where Uekman played, to pray. The school had initially planned on a rosary service for no more than three dozen people.
Beneath banners honoring state championship teams in football, basketball, soccer and the Quiz Bowl, students, alumni and parents gathered on the hardwood floor as the school’s rector, Msgr. Lawrence Frederick, led prayers. Many wept.
“It’s tough to see them under this situation,” said Central High football coach Ellis “Scooter” Register, who coached Uekman and Catholic High two seasons ago.
Petrino’s weekly news conference was canceled by the university, and Arkansas’ players weren’t available to talk on Sunday or Monday.
Some took to Twitter to express their sorrow.
“Garrett Uekman rest in peace my brother,” running back Knile Davis tweeted. “Watch over us as we continue to chase the dream u started with us. I love u and will forever miss u.”
They also made it clear they will use Uekman’s death as motivation against LSU.
“A team with something to play for can be dangerous, but a team with someone to play for is unstoppable,” freshman tackle Brey Cook tweeted.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said counseling services would be made available to players following the passing of Uekman, who had seen action in nine games this season.
“He will be part of us forever,” Petrino said.
Kelly Kissel in Little Rock and Brett Martel in Baton Rouge contributed.