June 10, 2004

Umeh lived the rags to riches dream

This week's stunning death of incoming Arizona football recruit McCollins Umeh hit home with Rivals.com recruiting analyst Matt Malatesta, who, like Umeh, is a Klein (Texas) Forest graduate and had developed a relationship with the player. Following is Malatesta's look back at Umeh's remarkable life.

As quickly as the sound of a chinstrap snapping to a helmet, a life with endless potential in snatched from this world. Former Klein Forest High School defensive end McCollins Umeh died just after 2 p.m. Tuesday on Arizona's football practice field, a little more than 24 hours after he had made Tucson his new home.

The rumors swirled before the media did some investigating and found that Umeh was the Wildcats' prized recruit of 2004. The news traveled fast through football circles before reaching me.

"Can you comment on the death of McCollins Umeh?" Anne Denogean of the Tuscon Citizen asked.

She had searched the web and discovered that I had written several article on Umeh, but surely she didn't know I was also a Klein (Texas) Forest graduate and part of the Golden Eagle family. My heart sank because I was pulling for this 6-foot-4 man-child. I knew of his unstable home life and of the academic struggles he endured.

Everyone was pulling of this likeable kid.

"I can't even talk about it," Eagle running back Kenny Hicks said, returning from a visit to Utah State and on his way to Louisiana Tech after becoming academically qualified in May. "I'm sorry, I just can't do it."

The news was painful for other teammates, too.

"I just threw my cell phone down when I got the voice message from my dad," said offensive tackle Brian Green, who played with Umeh for four seasons, said. "It is amazing how God works. MC was the strongest guy I've ever seen. I'm not going to say we ran in the same circles, but I played with him for four years, and we bonded."

While Green (6-foot-5, 295 pounds) and Umeh were similar physically, the two were polar opposites. Green, who will walk-on at Texas A&M next season, finished No. 4 in Klein Forest's senior class with a 5.26 grade point average. Umeh, who was coveted by every major program in the country, was ecstatic just to qualify for college.

They lined up against each other during practice for several years - indestructible, teenage battering rams.

"It sounds lame, but he was the American Dream," Green said. "He was a rags-to-riches guy. He didn't have the greatest upbringing, but he was going off to play college football. I just remember seeing two weeks ago and seeing how proud he was. I can't imagine what Dominic (Patrick) and Bobby (McCoy) are going through."

McCoy and Patrick committed with Umeh and their coach Gene Johnson, who took a graduate assistant job at Arizona. Umeh had initially committed to Kansas State before changing his mind.

"I have committed to Arizona," Umeh said in my final story on my fellow alum. "Coach Johnson going to Arizona played a big role in me going there, but there were other reasons. The campus was the most beautiful place I've seen. The coaches were very nice and treated me well, and they see me playing defensive end as a true freshman.

"Dominic committing was another factor to my decision, and I know Bobby is getting close to a decision. It will be nice to know someone there," he said. "Arizona is a perfect fit for me and is a program on the way up. I want to be part of that."

Umeh was most impressed with Arizona head coach Mike Stoops and his defensive philosophy.

"I trust him as a coach," he said. "What he did at Oklahoma was wonderful and he is building a program that people want to be a part of. What better way to build a defense in the Pac-10 than to bring in a bunch of Texas boys to do it."

It's painful to think that MC won't get a chance to live out his dream, but it was the journey that he took that showed everybody close to him what makes life so precious and football such a great game. Through football, Umeh was able to chase a dream that others don't get a chance to, even if it was cut short.



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