<
>

Football helps Mark Sanchez grieve loss of friends

FRISCO, Texas -- On Wednesday, Mark Sanchez was on the Dallas Cowboys' practice field and things were temporarily OK.

Practice and games have always been a place for players to get away from what may be happening off the field in their personal lives. For a few hours, Sanchez could think about Cover 2 and dig routes and of ways to help the Cowboys get ready to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Anything would have been better than what the quarterback has experienced the past few days.

On Monday, Sanchez was a pallbearer at the funeral of his former Southern Cal and New York Jets teammate Joe McKnight in New Orleans. Later that night, Sanchez learned that Konrad Reuland, one of his best friends from back home in California -- and a former Jets teammate -- passed away as well.

"The season helps being that your time is occupied and you're in a routine," Sanchez said. "But I think my dad and I talked about it, and it's just such a tough situation because to that one family and the people that are close, it's everything. You've lost everything when you lose something that is so important you do. But I've got to get up and go eat breakfast, I'm going to work out, I'm going to study film and go to practice and things move on. The world moves on, and it's like you don't even have enough time to piece it together. It's really weird. And you just know that family is grieving. You just pray for them and offer your support, but there's nothing to make anybody feel better."

Sanchez and McKnight were teammates for two years at USC and then with the Jets. Sanchez felt a need to be a big brother of sorts to players not from California, like McKnight, who was from New Orleans; Patrick Turner, who was from Tennessee; and Damien Williams, from Arkansas.

"SoCal is my home and I lived only an hour away, so we'd go pick those guys up on a Saturday and go have a barbecue, go throw the ball, whatever, in the offseason," Sanchez said. "So those guys became my good friends. Yeah, that was a tough one. That hit home. It's just tough to see because he's got his little boy, Jaiden, and you never want to see something like that."

Sanchez did not want to discuss the circumstances of McKnight's death stemming from an apparent road-rage incident on Dec. 1. He would rather remember McKnight's kind heart. They last talked a couple of months ago after McKnight's season with Saskatchewan ended in the CFL.

"I just knew he thought it was so cold up there," Sanchez said. "But he was the man. I mean such a good kid, an infectious smile. Really too bad ... Joe touched lot of people and without even trying. That's just the kind of guy he was."

After the Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1, Sanchez returned to California for three days. On Nov. 28, Reuland suffered a brain aneurysm. The next day he had surgery. He died Monday, with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh making an announcement after his team's loss to the New England Patriots.

Reuland played just 30 games in the NFL, including two with the Jets and Sanchez. The former tight end had 12 catches.

For Sanchez, the connection ran deep. They played travel basketball together in the second grade. They played together at Mission Viejo High School.

"We're the ones that convinced him to play high school," Sanchez said. "His dad was dead set on him playing basketball and he became a Division I tight end and NFL tight end, so that was big-time for him. It's really too bad. Really too bad."

Sanchez was able to see Reuland a final time before returning to Dallas.

"His dad said I could go see him and he was still in the induced coma, so we were just kind of laying hands on praying for him and hoping he'd wake up," Sanchez said. "Just too bad he didn't. Just ... too bad."