It all began with a phone call from a fellow college specialist who just a few days ago wished Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler well.
UConn senior kicker Bobby Puyol could barely believe his ears when he was told that Foltz, a highly-decorated punter at Nebraska and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler lost their lives in a one-car accident as they returned from a kicking camp in Wisconsin.
"It was crazy because I saw both of them on Saturday before I came back to UConn," Puyol said. "I was shocked, it was crazy.
"Football brings everybody together but it is so fragile, life is so much bigger. Just take a hold of every second you have and don't take anything for granted. I didn't know Sam very well, just met him this past weekend but he was a guy who did a lot more than just play football and did (so much) in the community at Nebraska. (Sadler) was more than just a football player, he was an academic All-American, it just shows that there is so much more than football.
Puyol had worked camps with Sadler in the past and like so many others who expressed their thoughts about the passing of the former academic All-American, Sadler's quest for life and desire to make a difference is what he has been reflecting on since he received the tragic news.
"I had a picture of Mike, his laugh, his smile, just everything and his spirit," Puyol said. "I saw him on the last day of the camp. He was the guy with the brightest light, the brightest guy in the room and when I heard that, it was all I could think about."
Puyol has worked in camps before and it is not unusual for a handful of kickers and punters to climb into a car and head back to either their hometowns or college they are attending. Puyol knows what took place over the weekend in Wisconsin could have happened to anybody.
Puyol has been a regular attendee at Sunday morning bible studies inside the Burton Family Football Complex since arriving in Storrs. His faith is something he is relying on to help him overcome the loss of Foltz and Sadler.
"It is huge," Puyol said. "His way is perfect, sometimes it is hard to grasp that. He is a guy who created this world, gave us all life, it is something I can hold onto. It is something I have been able to (draw) comfort (from) through all of this."
Puyol didn't know Foltz as well as Sadler. However, seeing how the Nebraska football community and those outside the program have reacted to the death of Foltz gave Puyol an indication of how special of a person Foltz was.
"I sent my condolences to the Nebraska kicker (Drew Brown), he seemed really upset," Puyol said. "It would be like if (UConn punter) Justin (Wain) got into a car accident."
There have been phone calls exchanged with other punters and kickers who worked camps with Foltz and Sadler in the past as well as plenty of interaction on social media.
"When we were there, the Baylor kicker (Chris Callahan) talked about specialists being a fraternity, a bunch of guys that went to camp I knew them throughout high school and my college career so I feel like we get to hang out and talk about more than just football," Puyol said.
"The craziest thing to me is just the amount of people that the specialists know and it is crazy to see the reaction of everybody."
Foltz and Sadler did much more during their college days than merely punt a football. Both were very involved in the community and top-notch student-athletes. Puyol has blazed a similar path. He was recently named to the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy which is presented annually to the college football player who gives back to the community and contributes athletically and academically. Puyol won the Don Ruck Award at UConn, an honor open to all student-athletes at UConn and with a criteria similar to the Wuerffel Trophy.
Puyol said he doesn't seek out accolades and recognition for his good works but it is gratifying to use his platform to make a difference.
"I think it is who do I want to be?" Puyol said. "I know my platform is so much bigger because I play football so if I want to help people out and be somebody who shares more than football but who shares life with people, I think that is probably the most important thing to do."
KNAPPE, MELIFONWU, THOMAS AND WALSH HEADED TO NEWPORT
The American Athletic Conference announced the players who will be heading to Newport, R.I. for next week's football media day.
UConn will be represented by safety Obi Melifonwu, linebacker Matt Walsh, offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and receiver Noel Thomas.
It will be the second straight year Knappe will take part in AAC media day while the four-member UConn contingent includes a pair of state natives as Thomas hails from Norwalk and Walsh is from Madison. Media day is set for Aug. 2 although some events will also take place on the 1st.
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