A somber Bruce Snyder, the head coach at Arizona State when Pat Tillman played there in the 1990s, said Friday that Tillman "could have been a presidential candidate in 15 years, if he had wanted to. He had so much potential to do stuff, good stuff."
Tillman, a starting linebacker on the Sun Devil Pacific-10 Conference championship team in 1996 and an all-conference linebacker the following year, died Thursday in a firefight in Afghanistan.
The 27-year-old gave up his NFL career with the Phoenix Cardinals to become an Army Ranger.
Snyder, now the UNLV offensive coordinator, said that when he first heard of Tillman's decision, he thought, "Oh, geez! Then I thought that it ended up being fairly consistent with how he behaved. Had somebody called me and said, 'Pat is going to the Amazon to live for a year,' I would have reacted the same way."
Tillman refused to be redshirted, and, in fact, graduated in 3½ years.
"The most mature freshman that I'd been around," Snyder said. "He came in with a lot of bricks in his pickup truck."
Tillman graduated early and never needed an academic advisor. Snyder said that the number of players he has coached in four decades who have done that "would all fit in this little office I have" in Las Vegas.
Snyder said Tillman called him between the time he made his decision to enlist and his deployment.
"The message that I got," Snyder said, "was that if he thought of something, he wanted to do something. He felt like we were under attack, so let's figure out and do something. That's one of the reasons there was so much admiration for him, from me, to the NFL, to his teammates. He was able to do that."
Snyder got the news in an early-morning phone call Friday. "I'm not subject to cussing," Snyder said, "but I got so damn mad. What a loss."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.