ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With all his previous focus on a future in pro football this week at the East-West Shrine Game, Cody O'Connell received a most difficult emotional jolt from nearly 3,000 miles away with the Tuesday news that his Washington State teammate and quarterback, Tyler Hilinski, had died of a gunshot wound authorities believe to be self-inflicted. However, he didn't give a thought to sitting out practice Wednesday to grieve for his friend, whom he protected as a starting offensive lineman.
"He was my brother," said O'Connell. "... The Tyler I knew would have kicked my butt if I didn't come out here and give it everything I had."
Hilinsk, 21, was found dead in his apartment Tuesday, where the Pullman (Wash.) Police Department recovered a rifle and a suicide note. Hilinsky played in eight games last year and was expected to be the Cougars' starter this fall. He shared time this season with incumbent starter Luke Falk, and led a triple overtime win over Boise State, 47-44, in September. The third-year sophomore was from Claremont, Calif.
With Hilinski's memory as motivation to participate in the third of four practices prior to the annual all-star game, O'Connell said he tried to focus on his run blocking. He noted the WSU offense didn't call for many run plays.
"It's kind of new to me, so getting to work with (Seahawks) coach (Pat) Ruel is really a blessing," he said.
O'Connell, a guard, was named first-team All-Pac-12 as a senior. At 6-foot-9 and 368 pounds, he is the biggest player at the annual Shrine Bowl. Now, he also must carry an equally big burden.