The Miami Hurricanes football team tragically lost a member of its family Thursday morning.
Al Blades, a defensive back for the Hurricanes from 1996-2000, died in a car accident after celebrating his 26th birthday.
The driver of the car, Martel Johnson, 26, also died as his Mazda hit a bridge abutment and careened into a canal. Witnesses told South Florida newspapers that the crash was a result of a race between Johnson’s car and another unidentified car.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue took Blades to Parkway Regional Medical Center in North Miami Beach, but Blades had already died as a result of drowning.
“The University of Miami is deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our former football players, Al Blades,” head coach Larry Coker said. “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Blades family.”
Blades death comes only a little over a year after ex-Hurricane football player Chris Campbell died when his car hit a tree.
“Chris Campbell was my roommate and that kind of put things in perspective for me at one point in my life, and time went on and I started to relax,” wide receiver Kevin Beard said. “This happening refocuses you, you take things more seriously and you appreciate more things.”
Beard attended Plantation High School in Ft. Lauderdale where Blades played football in the mid-90s.
The Hurricanes conducted their third spring practice Friday despite having lost one of their most spirited ex-teammates. Although Blades last played on the team in 2000, he stayed in touch with many of the players and people involved with the program.
When he played for the ‘Canes, Blades was known for his high intensity and big hits on the playing field and his kind heartedness and sense of humor off of the field.
“He was always the leader of the party on and off the field and having fun and getting everybody going and a motivator,” offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. “It’s a shame.”
Blades also had two older brothers, Bennie and Brian, who played for Miami in the 80’s and went on to have long careers in the NFL.
Blades leaves behind a three-year-old son named Al Jr.
“I talked to a lot of his friends and they said his son is just like him, and he always wants to be around his dad,” Beard said. “And that just goes to show you what kind of man he was.”
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s office performed an autopsy on Friday, but blood-alcohol reports will not be available till later this week.
Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale will hold the funeral services at 1 p.m. on March 29 and the service is open to the public.
-The Hurricanes held a short scrimmage at Greentree Practice Field on Saturday and will continue practice this week. They will hold another scrimmage this Friday at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend the scrimmage.
Nate Johnson can be reached at NPJ44@aol.com.