AUSTIN, Texas -- Grieving continues to be a daily process.
For the Wyoming Cowboys, it takes its next step today.
Just five days after the tragic death of freshman linebacker Ruben Narcisse in an automobile accident, the Pokes must return to the field for a game at No. 5 Texas.
“Emotions are going to be running high,” UW senior wide receiver David Leonard said. “It’s a tough time right now, but when you have tough times, you come together as a team and a family. I don’t think we have a choice.”
Subhed: “There’s no way around grief”
As with the grieving process throughout this week, the responses the players and coaches will have today are wide-ranging and somewhat unpredictable.
Likely, each player will feel a little differently about the experience.
“It does affect a tight-knit group that has been in camp for months and knows each other really well just like a family,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a renowned sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla. “You can’t really accelerate grief reactions or bereavement types of responses. They differ widely based on the relationship with that person and the individual that’s coping with it.
“[But] there’s no way around grief except through grief. You’re going to have to deal with it sometime.”
Few have dealt with a situation quite like this one.
Narcisse, a 19-year-old from Miami, Fla., was riding in a vehicle with three other teammates on their way back from Colorado early Monday morning.
The driver fell asleep and the vehicle drifted off the road, rolling down an embankment on Highway 287 in northern Colorado.
The three other passengers have been treated and released from hospitals, but Narcisse did not survive.
Now the Cowboys not only have to deal with the death of a teammate, but they must do so in the middle of the season while trying to play football.
“I would say that in that case you’ve got to put on your gameface quick and it might actually delay the response,” Murray said. “Some of the players might not deal with it until after the season or might not fully process it.
“[But] some kids won’t be affected at all. A lot has to do with their personal histories, what they’ve dealt with and what they’ve seen in terms of death.”
Subhed: “They grew up in life real quick”
The Connecticut Huskies found themselves in a similar situation nearly a year ago.
Star cornerback Jasper Howard made 11 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble during a victory over Louisville last year. Hours later, he was stabbed to death on campus.
One week later, the Huskies were back on the field, honoring their fallen teammate.
“It was hard, but I also think it was good,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “It was therapy for us to get out there and really kind of get our mind off some of those things.
“We took his jersey with us to all the games. We still have his “JH” on the back of our helmets this year because he would still be a senior and he’s an honorary captain for us.”
The Huskies lost a close game at West Virginia on the Saturday following Howard’s death.
The grieving process was far from over.
“The next task then was, on Monday after that Saturday, was to go to the funeral and to bury Jazz,” Edsall said. “That was something that was a difficult part to do and then you go back and play again the following Saturday. It’s very difficult, but our kids grew from it, they grew closer together and they grew up in life real quick.”
Subhed: “You’re still not over it today”
Jasper Howard’s face greets the Huskies every day.
A plaque in their facility’s lobby greets them with a smile from a fallen teammate.
Inside their locker room, the cornerback’s locker sits behind glass, untouched.
“It was just something we felt like we had to do,” Edsall said. “In life, things do happen, but you still have to move on and find ways to honor the young man. You never forget about it and you never will.”
The Cowboys are following a similar approach.
They’ll wear helmet decals with Narcisse’s initials during today’s game and a player will wear Narcisse’s No. 12 jersey, probably for at least the rest of this year.
Back in Laramie, the young linebacker’s locker will remain as it was for the next four seasons, when Narcisse would have graduated.
“It helps to memorialize that person’s meaning to the team,” Murray said. “It could also work to their benefit to help inspire the team with a little reminder that they’re playing for somebody who died.”
The constant reminders will keep the memory of Narcisse fresh on the mind for the next few seasons.
It will also mean a constant reminder that the grieving process may not end after one game, one week, one month or even one year.
“Every day was a healing process for us as we went forward from the day that he was murdered,” Edsall said. “You’re still not over it today. We’ve dealt with it, but it’s something that’s never going to leave us.”
The Cowboys take the next step in the healing process today.