Students, family, friends and athletes gathered Wednesday at Gusman Concert Hall to pay respects to the life of Bryan Pata, 22, who was murdered on Nov. 7.
The family, including Pata’s distraught mother, sat in the front row alongside Head Coach Larry Coker and his wife, Diana. Pata’s teammates filed in and sat down, looking emotionally drained from the events of the past week. President Donna E. Shalala and a number of other school officials attended the service but did not speak.
The ceremony included six tribute speakers such as Pata’s brother Edwin Pierre, Pata’s girlfriend Jada Brody, former offensive lineman Dave Howell, teammate Khalil Jones, line coach Clint Hurtt and Coker.
Edwin Pierre stood next to a photo of Pata on the stage, which was adorned with orange, green and white flowers. The resemblance between the two brothers is almost identical.
Pierre spoke about Pata growing up, calling him by his middle name, Sidney. He joked about Pata being the favorite because he was the youngest and recalled a verse of scripture that Pata always read before a football game.
“It says, ‘I will not be shaken.’ And that’s Bryan,” Pierre said. “Bryan would never let anyone get the best of him.”
He also said that, despite how difficult this time is for the family, they will see Pata again.
“He’s privileged to be where he is now,” Pierre said. “He wanted us to be strong. The last thing he wanted was for us to be sad; he wants us to be happy. I can’t wait to be with him. One day we’ll see Bryan again.”
Brody took the stage, trembling as she spoke to talk about Pata, who she called her “soul mate.”
Her tribute brought laughter to the crowd when she recalled Pata saying, “If I was rich, I wouldn’t play football. I’d just watch football and watch my friends play.”
Brody shared a message sent to her the morning of Nov. 7 that caused a roar of sniffles and cries throughout the audience.
“Good morning baby. I’m sorry I couldn’t get you a car for our one year anniversary,” she read. “I know we argue, but that makes us grow stronger. At the beginning of our relationship I never apologized but now I apologize all the time because I don’t want to lose you. In a few years we’re getting married, so you better be ready when I ask you. I love you so much.”
Howell, who played for UM before transferring to Portland State last December, talked about his relationship with Pata. Howell introduced Brody and Pata while he was at Miami.
He will continue to honor Pata next season by wearing his number.
“I’m going to play the beautiful game of football for myself and for Bryan,” Howell said. “I’m going to change my number next season to 95 to honor Bryan.”
Jones said that he and Pata had been in a small fight just before he left practice last Tuesday. His message was one of life, encouraging the family to stay strong.
Hurtt thanked Pata’s mother for raising her son to be what he was and talked about Pata’s “famous smile.”
“Most people have 32 teeth,” Hurtt said. “I swear he has 80.”
Coker was the last speaker to take the stage and made a short statement about Pata as a football player and how he loved his family.
“It’s easy to ask questions like why was his life ended so tragically soon?” Coker said. “God will have the final say and it will be good.”
A tribute video filled with clips of Pata on the field and photos of him with his family was set to music drowned by the cries of many, most loudly his mother.
An a capella gospel trio group of brothers, called R-Styl’ changed the song they planned to sing to “Life Is In His Hands,” believing it was more appropriate for Pata after hearing about him.
The ceremony was attended by over 500 members of the UM community.
“The service was so beautiful,” Student Government President Annette Ponnock said. “It perfectly paid tribute to all his roles; his love for football, his love for his family and his love for UM.”
The program welcomed donations to The Hurricane Club in Pata’s memory that would become an endowment fund. Athletic Director Paul Dee mentioned that other tributes to Pata would come at a later time.
“I think there are things in the planning stages that will come later at a more appropriate time,” Dee said. “Bryan’s teammates will carry him with him for a long time.”
Matthew Bunch also contributed to this article.
Stacey Arnold may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.