FAYETTEVILLE An estimated 2,800 people attended a candlelight vigil Monday night at Bud Walton Arena in memory of Garrett Uekman, a University of Arkansas football player who died Sunday.
Uekman’s father, mother and sister attended the vigil, as did the Razorbacks football team.
UA chancellor G. David Gearhart, football coach Bobby Petrino and football player Austin Tate were among those who spoke at the service, which lasted approximately 45 minutes.
“This is a sad day for the Razorback family and a tragic reminder of how precious life really is,” Petrino said. “Moments like this make you realize just how insignificant wins and losses can be, and just how important people around you are. Garrett was important to all of us.
“He embodied everything that is great about this football team, this university and this state. He was a tireless worker, an excellent student and even a better friend, and a kid any parent would be proud to call their own.”
Tate, a fellow tight end and teammate of Uekman’s for the last two football seasons, spoke with teammates Zach Hocker, Luke Charpentier and Brian Buehner at his side.
“I have my sister here and I love her with all my heart, but Garrett was like my brother and as far as I’m concerned, I’m part of your family, too,” Tate told the Uekman family.
“He loved being part of this team and cherished every moment he was here. I just wish I had a lifetime of knowing Garrett Uekman.”
Gearhart said Uekman, an academic sophomore, would receive a posthumous degree from the university and would have his name added to the school’s prestigious senior walk for graduates.
“I suspect everyone here tonight is struggling to comprehend how someone so young, so talented, so vigorous, so full of life could be taken so unexpectedly from us,” Gearhart said. “The loss is deep and profound. It is as shocking as it is tragic.”
Uekman was found unresponsive in his dorm room at the Northwest Quad residence hall Sunday at approximately 11:17 a.m., according to a release through the UA. When paramedics arrived, the 19-year-old was in cardiac arrest.
He was pronounced dead 50 minutes later at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville.
Uekman’s death has rocked the UA campus just days ahead of the football program’s biggest regular season game in more than four decades. The No. 3 Razorbacks will play at No. 1 LSU on Friday.
Choking back tears, Petrino said the team would play the game at the request of the Uekman family.
“To the outside world, we will take the field without number 88,” Petrino said. “They could not be more wrong.
“Garrett will be there in the heart and soul of every Razorback that takes the field, sits in the stands or watches on TV. He is part of us and will be forever.”