MIAMI — Practice ended at Florida International on a steamy morning, and coach Mike MacIntyre gathered the team to go over the plan for the rest of the day.
When he was finished, there was one last order of business.
“Let’s have a prayer,” MacIntyre said. “A prayer for Luke’s family.”
Football resumed at FIU two days after 22-year-old linebacker Luke Knox – the brother of Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox – died in a Miami hospital. The cause of death still has not been announced, though police have said foul play is not believed to have been involved.
MacIntyre has been close with Knox’s family for decades. He’s known David Knox, Luke Knox’s father, for more than 40 years. MacIntyre went to Brentwood Academy in Tennessee, the same prep school that many in the Knox family attended.
He coached Luke Knox at Mississippi, and MacIntyre taking over at FIU after last season is part of the reason why Knox transferred there.
MacIntyre and his team spent the day off the field grieving, snacking on pizza, and chicken sandwiches, trying to watch a movie, telling stories about Knox, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing, often hugging. The next day, they got back to football.
“There’s no perfect formula, but you love the kids, you’re with them, you’re listening to what they say,” MacIntyre said. “And like I told every one of them, and our coaches reiterated it multiple times, everybody grieves differently. You don’t know when it’s going to hit you. So, we allowed our kids to say, `I want to practice, I don’t want to practice,’ and I think that they’ve you handled it the best they can.”
Most players chose to practice. Some asked to be excused, instead spending time with counselors and psychologists.
Luke Knox was unresponsive when found in his dorm room there by a teammate, police said. Police officers administered CPR upon arrival, and county rescue personnel took over when they came to transport Knox to a nearby hospital.
MacIntyre spent hours there, hoping for a miracle. He then went to the airport to pick up Knox’s parents in the wee hours.
“We’re in the process of working through this,” MacIntyre said.
He has had to deal with something similar before, at Georgia Tech in the late 1980s, when one of his teammates, tight end Chris Caudle, drowned in a boating mishap. MacIntyre said he also had been getting calls from other coaches who have lost a player.
Lane Kiffin, who coached Knox at Ole Miss, said he was thankful for having known him.
“Really neat kid,” Kiffin said. “Got to spend a lot of 1-on-1 time with him. I’m fortunate for that. Sometimes you don’t because you’ve got so many players. Just happened to with him. It’s very unfortunate. … He impacted a lot of people. Probably more than he imagined, and you can see that from the reaction from so many people hurt.”
Some of that hurt has been turned to good.
Dawson Knox has helped raise funds for the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative in the Buffalo area during his time with the Bills. In a span of about 24 hours following the announcement of Luke Knox’s death, the organization received more than $100,000 in donations.
Most of those donations were for exactly $16.88. The 16 signifies Luke Knox’s jersey number at FIU, the 88 signifying Dawson Knox’s number with the Bills.
Dawson Knox announced that services for his brother will take place in Tennessee, adding that his family is thankful “for the outpouring of love and support.” FIU is also deciding how it wants to honor Knox throughout this season, with MacIntyre saying he would leave that primarily up to the leaders on the team.
The first of their many tributes came after the post-practice prayer. Their final chant as they broke the huddle was “1, 2, 3, Luke.”
“I thought that was very fitting,” MacIntyre said.
And when he said that, he was no longer able to hold back his tears.