Carl Hulick nearly wept as he walked out of the UCLA locker room Monday morning. His eyes still red, he hugged one teammate for comfort. Several more patted him on the shoulder.
Physical comforts only helped so much. A few seconds later, Hulick gritted his teeth and slammed his own helmet. Death still haunted him.
Bruins receiver Nick Pasquale had been pronounced dead at 1:27 a.m. Sunday, struck by a vehicle in residential San Clemente. An investigation is ongoing, but there is currently no suspicion of drug or alcohol use. The driver called 9-1-1 and remained on scene. No arrests were made.
News filtered through the community quickly, spreading to players in their respective locations. With the bye, many had taken the rare weekend off the visit home. One heard the news after getting off his flight.
When head coach Jim Mora finally assembled a team meeting Sunday night, the room was silent.
“Everybody on that team, everybody in the locker room has a different relationship with Nick. Knew him in a different way,” Mora said Monday. “Whatever they were feeling was OK.
“For those that wanted to cry, that was OK. For those that wanted to laugh and tell a funny story, it was OK. There’s going to be kids in there that really maybe don’t feel a lot, and they shouldn’t feel guilty about that. That’s OK.”
The team will grieve now, and it will grieve on its own terms. Mora decided to close down practices and player interviews to the media this week, an understandable move in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy. Counselors were available to the players starting Monday.
If there is any silver lining, it is that Pasquale made his career debut against Nevada last Saturday. The Bruins were running up a double-digit lead, their brilliant offense slicing through a gassed Wolf Pack defense. When the team started dipping down the depth chart, the receivers pushed assistant Eric Yarber to put in the 5-foot-7 spark plug.
“That’s something his parents will have forever,” Mora said.
Friends and family remember Pasquale as a gritty, tough player, one nicknamed “Pacquiao” by his teammates after the eight-division world boxing champion. On Twitter, the Bruins praised the walk-on redshirt freshman for taking every snap on scout team, for never complaining, for loving life.
Asked what his favorite memory of Pasquale was, Mora’s first thought jumped to last Thursday. The receiver had just shaved his hair off, and the coach rubbed his head playfully. More quickly flooded back: Pasquale catching balls in practice, talking trash to linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich.
He recently told his father, Mel, that he thought coaches were beginning to notice him. Mora said that wasn’t true; they had been watching him since his first practice.
“He was a tough sucker, man,” Mora said. “He was, what, 5-7? A buck sixty-five, seventy? But his freakin’ heart jumped out of his chest.”
On the gate to Spaulding Field, someone had left two signs in Pasquale’s memory. One, written on white paper, read: “Rest in peace our angel #36.” The other, on blue, said: “Play for each other, play for your brother.” The number 36 was encircled by a heart.
The Bruins will begin wearing Pasquale’s number on their uniforms this Saturday at Nebraska, the “36” adorned on the front of the left shoulder. The Cornhuskers will do the same with a decal on their helmets.
Before the 11 a.m. CST kickoff, the entire stadium will take a moment of silence.
“I can’t ever forget about this kid,” Mora said. “I can’t ever forget that there’s a family out there that lost their son. What it meant for him to be a player here. We can’t become numb to it. …
“The kids loved him, man. They loved him.”