Minnesota LB Gary Tinsley found dead, was 22

Published 6:43 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Gary Tinsley, a Minnesota linebacker who had overcome some personal problems early in his Gophers career and was set to earn his degree in just a few weeks, was found dead in his campus apartment Friday morning, university officials said. He was 22.

Tinsley was found unresponsive in his apartment at Roy Wilkins Hall on the Minneapolis campus, university Police Chief Greg Hestness said.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately released as authorities awaited autopsy results from the medical examiner. Hestness said police were not aware of any pre-existing medical conditions that may have caused Tinsley’s death.

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“It’s a very, very sad day for our football program and for our young men,” an emotional coach Jerry Kill said. “We lost one of ours today in Gary Tinsley, who I know is in a good place.”

Tinsley watched a movie with some teammates in his room on Thursday night and went to bed around 11 p.m., a team spokesman said. One of his roommates was brushing his teeth Friday morning when he heard Tinsley’s alarm sounding without being turned off. When the teammate went to check, he found Tinsley wasn’t breathing.

Emergency officials arrived on the scene minutes after a 911 call, but were not able to resuscitate him. Tinsley was pronounced dead at the scene about 8:15 a.m., Hestness said. Police did not find any signs of foul play, crime or injuries when they arrived, but are treating it as a suspicious death because “the death of a young athlete is out of the ordinary,” Hestness said.

“It is always difficult to lose a member of the University family,” Minnesota President Eric Kaler said in a statement issued by the school. “Gary was close to graduating from the university’s College of Education and Human Development with a major in business and marketing education. In addition, he was an important part of Gopher athletics who was engaged in public service. Our thoughts are with Gary’s family and everyone on campus who knew him.”

Tinsley was recruited by former coach Tim Brewster from First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla. An athletic linebacker with a fiery demeanor, Tinsley ran into several problems off the field early in his time at Minnesota. He was arrested after participating in a brawl near campus during his sophomore season and was suspended from the team in 2010 on suspicion of fleeing police and operating a motorized scooter while intoxicated.

But those around the program had credited Tinsley with maturing over his final two years in school, and he emerged as a team leader who was set to get his degree in business marketing education at commencement this spring. School officials said he will be awarded his diploma posthumously at a ceremony next month.

“Obviously I don’t know all of the 750 athletes as well as I’d like. Gary is one that I knew,” athletic director Joel Maturi said, his voice shaking. “Sometimes got to know him because of some of the things that he did that I had to deal with. (But it was) great to see his growth. He was set to graduate next month. Tough.”

Tinsley completed his eligibility at the end of the 2011 season. He lettered all four years and started every game over his final two seasons with the team. He was No. 2 in total tackles with 87 last season and finished with 198 total tackles for his career. He was not expected to be chosen in the upcoming NFL draft, but was hoping to catch on as a rookie free agent to try to continue his playing career.

“Gary’s a young man that has done everything I asked him to do since the day I walked in this door,” said Kill, who was hired before last season to take over for the fired Brewster.

It’s the latest difficulty for a football program that has seen plenty of it. Just last season, players, coaches and supporters were stunned when Kill collapsed in a seizure on the sidelines during a game. Kill was able to get his condition under control with medication as the season progressed, but it shook the players to see their leader struggle.

Now they’re picking up the pieces again, trying to stay together through a sudden tragedy that occurred while the team is in the middle of spring practices. The Gophers canceled Saturday’s scheduled practice.

“It’s just weird how things work,” quarterback MarQueis Gray said. “Last night, we were just texting each other and today he’s gone. I guess that’s just the way God works. He was a great brother, a great teammate, a great friend. I know he was a great son to his parents. I can only imagine what his parents are feeling right now.

“For myself and the rest of the team, we’re very sad that this had to happen. We just need to use it as motivation to continue to stick together.”