MOBILE, Ala. -- Quarterback Luke Falk arrived at the Senior Bowl with a heavy heart and a new jersey number -- No. 3, in honor of former Washington State backup Tyler Hilinski, who died by suicide earlier this month.
Falk said football has always been an "escape" for him, so he thinks he will be able to compartmentalize his emotions and focus on the first big step of his NFL audition.
But Falk said he wants the focus to remain on Hilinski as well.
"We really want Tyler to be remembered and this to be talked about," Falk said. "I mean, when suicide is the leading cause of death of men from 18 to 45 years old, it should be talked about. And we should do something about it. I feel like at times we feel like we can't express our emotions because we're in a masculine sport. And him being a quarterback, people look up to you as a leader, so he felt like he really probably couldn't talk to anybody. You know, we gotta change some of that stuff. We gotta have resources and not have any more stigma on people going through that.
"I just felt like [the jersey switch] is what I needed to do. He needs to be remembered. He was an amazing person and an amazing soul. This guy was one of the most outgoing, bubbly ... just a guy you want to be around. And people need to know it."
Falk said a candlelight vigil last week helped the team "come together and kind of have some closure" when they got to honor Hilinski with family and friends. "But it's always gonna be with us," he said.
"Words don't describe the hurt that I think we all felt," said Falk, who added that it made him and others close to Hilinski "just kind of go back and ask ourselves, 'Were there signs? What could we have done?'
"So I think we all feel a little bit of guilt. I wish that I could've given him one more hug. I wish I could've given him a pat on the butt one more time and just let him know that he's loved."
Falk's performance on the field got off to a good start in Mobile on Tuesday, with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay calling him "the most consistent quarterback on either team."
Falk will likely be a midround draft selection; McShay and Scouts Inc. had him rated seventh among quarterback prospects heading into Saturday's Senior Bowl. But Falk didn't blink at questions about being left out of the hype surrounding top prospects like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and this week's North squad teammates Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield.
"I'm just here to play football, show what I can do and interview well and show teams that I'm the right guy for them, and I'm a franchise quarterback, and I'm gonna win Super Bowls," said Falk, who knows one of his biggest objectives will be to show teams he can operate under center after running the Air Raid spread system in college under coach Mike Leach that has led to mixed results for NFL prospects in the past.
"I think the proof is in the pudding. You can go back and watch my film," Falk added, pointing to Washington State's turnaround while he was there. "People are gonna have questions about whether I can transition or whatever, but Jared Goff's doing a great job, it looks like Pat Mahomes is doing a great job [after they ran similar offenses in college]. So I'm gonna be just fine."