Former USF football players lost at sea

The Coast Guard continues its search for two former USF football players presumed missing off the coast of Florida after they did not return from a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.

William Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, who played for USF during the 2006 football season, and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Victor Cooper and Corey Smith are believed to be the four people on the boat, according to the Coast Guard

The group departed in a 21-foot boat at 6:30 a.m. Saturday from Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater Pass, according to the St. Petersburg Coast Guard. The Coast Guard received a call at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning reporting that the men had not returned as planned.

Bleakley’s father, Robert, said the Coast Guard is updating the family “every hour” on the status of the search.

“We’re hopeful right now,” he said. “The boat is supposed to be a real top-quality boat. What we’re thinking of is their safety. We hope they just have stayed on the boat.”

Robert Bleakley said falling temperatures and winds gusting above 35 mph on Sunday made it tougher on search crews.

“I think the Coast Guard is doing everything they can right now, and they’re doing a great job,” he said. “They’ve put all their efforts into their search.”

Coast Guard stations in Clearwater and Sand Key have combined in the search, sending boat, helicopter and air rescue crews to search a 750-square mile area west of Clearwater Pass.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Will (Bleakley) and Nick (Schyler), as well as the Florida Coast Guard as they continue their search,” said USF Director of Athletics Doug Woolard in a statement.

Both Bleakley and Schuyler were members of the football team that won USF’s first-ever bowl game, a 24-7 victory in the Papajohn’ Bowl. Bleakley played in 13 games that year and averaged 11.1 yards per catch as a tight end. Schuyler joined the team as a walk-on.