CINCINNATI (AP) — The first practice after the accident was unforgettable.
Unforgettable for the silence in the University of Cincinnati locker room and weight room. Unforgettable for the emotion of young men trying to deal with the death of a teammate and the serious injury to another.
“The first day after the accident, I’ll always remember the locker room was the most eerie thing,” senior offensive guard Austen Bujnoch said on Tuesday. “I didn’t hear one word the entire day. We lifted, had practice — I didn’t hear one word.
“But we’re pushing through it.”
The Bearcats (3-1) are coming off a bye week filled with mourning. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick of Hamilton, Ohio, was killed in a traffic accident on his way back from a 14-0 victory over Miami of Ohio in nearby Oxford on Sept. 21.
There were four students in the car. The driver — an 18-year-old Miami student who was friends with the Cincinnati players — also was killed. Two redshirt freshman receivers were injured.
Mark Barr of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., remains in serious condition in intensive care at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, coach Tommy Tuberville said on Tuesday. Javon Harrison from suburban Dayton was treated at the hospital after the accident.
As redshirt freshmen, the players didn’t dress or travel with the team to the game, so they were traveling on their own.
The Bearcats attended Flick’s funeral and leaned on each other to get through a difficult bye week. Cincinnati plays its inaugural game in the American Athletic Conference on Saturday at South Florida (0-4).
“There’s definitely been a lot of hard times,” senior quarterback Brendon Kay said. “We’ve bonded over it. I think things are getting as normal as they can be.”
The Bearcats are reminded of Flick’s death every time they see his locker. Those who roomed with him on campus have the keenest sense of loss.
“I’ve sat down and talked with quite a few of them, and you let them know you’re there for them if they need anything,” Kay said. “As hard as it is for everyone, his roommates — it’s definitely hardest on them.”
Coach Tommy Tuberville has balanced getting his team ready for a game and allowing the players to have time to work through their grief. Tuberville has spent a lot of time at the intensive care unit in the last week.
“There wasn’t anything normal for the first four or five days after the car wrecked, and rightfully so,” Tuberville said. “It’s devastating for all of us. And for many of the kids, they’ve never been around anything like that. They don’t handle it near as well as anybody else.
“There was a lot of grieving, and still is a lot of grieving going on with our team. It’s pretty somber. We haven’t had a lot of ‘rah-rah’ practices, from coaching or playing. It probably won’t happen for a while because there’s still not a closure to the situation we’ve had.”
Tuberville thinks that playing a game will help the Bearcats move beyond the tragedy, even as they remember a teammate still in intensive care.
“It’s a different situation than I’ve ever been in,” he said. “I have not known how to handle it. There is no right or wrong way. It’s just that you hear the old adage: Time heals all.
“So we’ll just have to keep working at it and try to keep them as focused as we can, and remind them that this is a more serious situation than just a football game, what’s going on over at that hospital.”
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay