Search goes on; Schuyler doing well

Updated: March 3, 2009, 2:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The father of an NFL player among three men lost at sea said the Coast Guard's hopes are waning of finding survivors off the Florida Gulf Coast.

Bruce Cooper said Tuesday he still has hope, but the Coast Guard told families privately that officials weren't optimistic because of the time frame and possibility of hypothermia.

Cooper's son is Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper. The search for him, free-agent lineman Corey Smith and former college player William Bleakley entered its third day Tuesday.

Cooper
Cooper
Smith
Smith

The Coast Guard wouldn't publicly say whether they thought the men were still alive.

The ocean search for the three entered its third day Tuesday. Officials did say the search was aided by information from Nick Schuyler, who was rescued Monday clutching the boat's hull. The Coast Guard said searchers spotted the 24-year-old former University of South Florida football player off the coast of Florida from a half-mile away and that he helped himself into a small rescue boat.

Schuyler said the men put on life vests after the boat overturned Saturday. They swam under the boat and were able to recover their life vests. They stayed together for some time, yet it remains unclear when and how they got separated.

Capt. Timothy Close said Tuesday a decision on how long the search will continue has not been made. Hypothermia can set in after 18 hours in 64-degree water. Water temperatures were in the mid- to upper-60s.

The boat flipped almost 72 hours ago.

"With all of these men being past, present football players, they do have a much larger physique than a lot of people," Petty Officer Robert Simpson said. "So their odds are going to be definitely in their favor."

Schuyler was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia when he was found. But his condition improved to fair at a hospital Tuesday.

Schuyler's mother, Marcia Schuyler, said her son told her he survived by thinking about how he didn't want her to go to his funeral.

The family's joy at him being found alive was tempered by the search for his friends.

"We still have three men missing, and we're not going to talk too much until we find these guys," Schuyler's father, Stuart, said. "We're all praying for them. These guys are all very close friends."

Jim English, general manager of LA Fitness in Lutz, Fla., told ESPN's Joe Schad that Schuyler is a personal trainer who works with Cooper and Smith, among other professional athletes.

"Nick has always been attentive and friendly and had a positive outlook," English said. "I'd say that 70 to 80 percent of his ability to survive was his will and his physical condition. I also know he had a will to live for his parents."

Searchers had previously covered 16,000 square miles of ocean but the area being searched was much smaller since they found Schuyler, Close said.

Cooper and other family members were in Tampa awaiting news on the search.

"He's just a fighter. He's an undersize linebacker ... and he just doesn't back down. He accepts the fight, and I know that's what he's doing in the water. He's not quitting," Cooper said about his son.

Smith's family had to drive to Florida from Richmond, Va., after a snowstorm in the East made getting a flight impossible, said Yolanda Newbill, one of Smith's sisters. She said they have been in contact with the Coast Guard every few hours since the search began.

"We have total faith that [he] will be coming home," Newbill said.

Newbill told "Good Morning America" that Smith "is one of the good guys, without question."

"He's an ordinary guy who loves football. Very family-oriented. Would do anything, literally would give you the shirt off his back," Newbill said on the ABC program.

James Allen, a marine safety consultant who once worked search and rescue operations with the Coast Guard, said the chances of finding survivors diminish after people have been in the water three days.

Survivors have been found who were floating for days, but he added "you just can't swim forever."

The four men left Clearwater Pass early Saturday in calm weather, but heavy winds picked up through the day and the seas got heavy, with waves of 7 feet and higher, peaking at 15 feet on Sunday. A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday after the men did not return as expected. The Coast Guard said it did not receive a distress signal.

The men were aboard an Everglades-manufactured boat, which is built with compressed foam encased in Fiberglas, making it difficult to sink. The weather had improved, with waves subsiding to 6 to 8 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Barron said.

However, Bob Zales, president of National Association of Charter Boat Operators, said waves that high can capsize a boat the size of Cooper's.

"A boat that size, personally, I wouldn't get out any farther than 20 or 30 miles offshore," Zales said. "But I see people all the time 40, 50 miles offshore."

Smith had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for the Detroit Lions. He also played for the San Francisco 49ers and was a standout at North Carolina State.

Cooper, 26, played college ball at Washington, and has spent five seasons with five different teams, appearing in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005. He's played sparingly since.

The Raiders and Lions said in separate statements that the teams hope the men will be rescued and that their thoughts and prayers go out to their families.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.