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November 8, 2006
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MIAMI - Bryan Pata's teammates at Miami walked into the night silently, some rubbing their eyes, some with stunned looks on their faces.
A few hours earlier, the Hurricanes were practicing with the soft-spoken defensive lineman, a popular figure around campus who was "hard to miss."
And then, he was gone.
Pata was shot and killed Tuesday night at his apartment complex, the latest shock to a Hurricanes team touched by tragedy and turmoil - including four deaths in the last decade, a separate gun incident earlier this season and an ugly on-field brawl just last month.
The 22-year-old senior who grew up in Miami was pronounced dead in the parking lot outside his apartment, and his death was ruled a homicide, Miami-Dade police spokesman Roy Rutland said.
"We're trying to get through a hard time right now and it's going to take time," Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman told The Associated Press after a team meeting at the university's athletic complex. "And that's what being a close football family is all about. We're going to help each other with this."
Word spread quickly around campus, and grief counselors were summoned to work with Pata's teammates. Another team meeting to discuss plans for a memorial was scheduled for Wednesday, and no decision has been made about the status of Saturday afternoon's scheduled game against No. 23 Maryland.
School officials said coach Larry Coker was "numb" over the news. The university athletic department released a statement, urging anyone with information about Pata's death to call police.
"Tonight the University of Miami tragically lost a member of our football family, Bryan Pata," read the release. "Bryan was a fine person and a great competitor. He will be forever missed by his coaches and teammates. We offer our thoughts and prayers to his family."
Rutland said police were called at 7:30 p.m. to the scene and found Pata's body. He lived about 4 miles from campus. No motive for Pata's death was released, and Miami-Dade police did not say who made the 911 call after the shooting.
"Right now, we're just gathering ourselves and just trying to pull ourselves together," Miami athletic director Paul Dee told the AP.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman was in his fourth year with the Hurricanes. He appeared in 41 games, making 23 starts, and was expected to be selected in next spring's NFL draft.
"Pata was a guidance counselor in a way of our football team," Freeman said. "He wasn't the captain of the team, yet people would look to Pata for direction on the way things are going. He was definitely a great leader."
Annette Ponnock, Miami's student body president, said Pata - a fierce player on the field and a somewhat soft-spoken one off it - was well known and popular on campus.
"Everyone is just more surprised than anything else," Ponnock said. "He's such a personality on campus. It was just really, really shocking to have such a loss. ... He was a big guy so it was kind of hard to miss him. He just had a presence about him."
The Hurricanes used Pata primarily at defensive tackle this season, and he had 13 tackles and two sacks.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford was aware of the shooting and was working with Miami officials to gather information, conference spokeswoman Amy Yakola said.
It was at least the fourth time that tragedy involving a player has struck the Hurricanes in recent years.
In April 1996, reserve linebacker and Miami native Marlin Barnes was murdered in a campus apartment. And in 2003, former Miami safety Al Blades was killed in a car accident, about a year after former Miami linebacker Chris Campbell - who had just completed his eligibility with the Hurricanes - also died in a crash.
Pata's death was the second incident involving guns this season for the Hurricanes.
In July, reserve safety Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks when confronted in his yard before an early morning workout. Cooper was not seriously injured. Brandon Meriweather, one of Cooper's teammates and roommates, returned fire at Cooper's assailant, taking three shots that apparently missed, police said.
Several Miami players, including Pata, said that incident was a robbery attempt, and cautioned other teammates to always be aware of their surroundings.
"We're targets because we play for the University of Miami. ... These guys, they know who we are," Miami linebacker Jon Beason said shortly after the Cooper shooting.
That incident prompted Coker to say that he did not want his players to have guns, even if they possessed them legally.
Last month, Miami was involved in an ugly brawl with Florida International, a melee where fists, feet and helmets became weapons. In all, 31 players were punished, including 13 Hurricanes.
For more coverage of Miami, visit CaneSport.com.
Updated 7:45 a.m. ET
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