It’s supposed to be an exciting time for Arkansas football, but instead it’s become a time of tragedy and mourning.
Less than a day after Arkansas’ lopsided victory over Mississippi State — a win that helped put the program in position for its highest BCS ranking ever, the university announced Sunday that redshirt freshman tight end Garrett Uekman died after being found “unconscious and unresponsive” in his dorm room.
Uekman, 19, was pronounced dead shortly after 12 p.m. at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, where the university calls home.
The cause of death remains unknown. When emergency responders arrived, Uekman was in cardiac arrest. An autopsy is scheduled in the state’s medical examiner’s office. A roommate last saw Uekman playing video games an hour before another roommate discovered the body. Police are ruling out any “suspicious circumstances.”
Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino fought through emotions as he read a statement at a press conference Sunday night.
“Garrett was a special member of our family,” Petrino said. “The team and I were shocked today when we learned of his tragic passing. The entire football program is grieving his loss.”
Arkansas will try to gather focus amid this tragedy as they prepare for a huge battle Friday with No. 1 LSU, a game whose outcome will have enormous implications on the SEC West and BCS title game pictures.
Uekman’s teammates were informed of his death during a team meeting Sunday, a day in which the Razorbacks learned they moved up to No. 3 in all three major polls. Players were seen visibly distraught and hugging one another outside the team’s facilities. The university has offered them grief counseling.
Some Razorbacks took to Twitter to memorialize their teammate.
“Garrett Uekman rest in peace my brother Watch over us as we continue to chase the dream u started with us. I love u and will forever miss u,” injured junior running back Knile Davis tweeted.
“RIP Garrett.. I am thankful for the opportunity to have you in my life! I will always remember the times we had together. I love you buddy!” senior guard Grant Cook said in a tweet.
“Today, I lost a roommate, a very close friend, and a brother in Garrett Uekman. Thoughts and prayers to the Uekman family. Love ya 88,” tweeted kicker Zach Hocker.
Uekman recorded playing time in nine of Arkansas’ 11 games this season, including Saturday’s 44-17 win over Mississipi State in Little Rock, Uekman’s hometown.
“Our son was living his dream of going to the U of A and playing football for the Razorbacks,” the player’s parents said in a statement.