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Burrell student remembered as 'gentle giant'

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 10:46 p.m.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
Somber Burrell High School students stand in silence at the school with candles on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 at a vigil to honor Noah Cornuet, a Burrell football player who died at practice on Wednesday.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Puckety Presbyterian Church Upkeep chair Vince Appleman (left), and church council member Cliff McKay look over the inlaid cross project Noah Cornuet completed as a part of his Eagle Scout project at the Lower Burrell church on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Cornuet died Wednesday during football practice at Burrell High School.

A teammate called him a big teddy bear. A friend at his church said he was a gentle giant. But Burrell sophomore Noah Cornuet, be it through sports, Boy Scouts, or church activities, didn't look down at anyone.

“I never saw that kid frown once. He was always happy and smiling,” Burrell senior football player Ryan Sowol said. “Everything you can ask for in a person, he had it.”

Cornuet died Wednesday evening after collapsing during the Burrell football team's heat acclimation workout at the Bucs' practice field beside St. Mary's Cemetery. Thursday's autopsy showed the 16-year-old had a rare, non-cancerous tumor in his heart.

A vigil was held Thursday night at Burrell High School. Friends, family and fellow students attended, lighting candles in Cournuet's honor.

Nobody questioned whether the 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman put his heart into anything he did.

“He was the kindest kid you'd ever want to meet,” Burrell sophomore quarterback Max Garda said. “He'd do anything (to help) anybody. He looked intimidating, but he was just a big teddy bear.”

Garda said Cornuet was competing for a starting position at offensive tackle. Teammates, both in wrestling and football, say there was a toughness hidden behind the gentlemanly facade.

“He always had a smile on his face ... He liked to make people smile,” said Shannan Smail, a neighbor of the Cornuets.

Family and friends arrived throughout the day Thursday to the Cornuet's home to pay their respects.

Cornuet was an active member of Puckety United Presbyterian Church in Lower Burrell. He had just replaced all the mulch at the church and in its playground, and had set two military headstones in the church cemetery as part of his almost-completed Eagle Scout project.

He also was going to repaint the lines in the parking lot. Cornuet earned his driver's permit in the spring.

“He had worked hard to get all the paint donated, but never did get to the job,” said Kelly Kapelewski, a secretary at the church. “He gave a speech at our church and described all the things he'd be doing here.”

Melvin Peck, the scout master of Boy Scout Troop 180, to which Cornuet belonged for about five years. Cornuet was a Life Scout and working toward becoming an Eagle Scout.

Although his Eagle Scout project was not yet finished, Peck said he already has Cornuet's Eagle Scout pin and will seek permission from the Boy Scouts to pin it on Noah before he is buried.

The other members of his troop and his football teammates will finish his project at Puckety Presbyterian Church for him, Peck said. He will be awarded the rank of Eagle Scout posthumously, possibly in September after the paperwork goes through.

“He was a good boy. He was very polite, very funny, outgoing, a good leader, too,” Peck said.

For fun, Peck said he and Cornuet had planned to stage a wrestling bout at his Eagle Scout ceremony.

“He kind of dwarfed me. We used to joke about him carrying me around,” he said.

Shane Cornuet, Noah's older brother, became interested in wrestling because of Noah.

Now a sophomore football player at Geneva, Shane will never forget his brother's aura.

“Everyone smiled around him,” Shane said. “That's how he made people feel.”

Burrell assistant wrestling coach Chris Como posted a statement on behalf of the “Burrell wrestling family” on his Facebook page.

One line pinned the rest: “The 2014 wrestling season is dedicated to you, buddy,” Como wrote.

“He might not have been the best wrestler, but he was always there and working hard,” Lower Burrell resident Zach Kelly said. “He knew he wasn't going to be an elite wrestler, but he was there for the team.”

Said junior wrestler Bubby Scherer: “(Cornuet) was nice unless you pushed him. It took a lot, but once he got mad, he was a completely different person. He was like 10 times better.”

Cornuet's death sent shock waves through the A-K Valley as other teams conducted their own heat acclimation workouts.

Highlands also encountered tragedy a year ago when it lost would-be senior linebacker Ryan Richards, who was killed in a vehicle accident last summer.

“That was a whole different (non-football-related) situation,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “But we lost a brother and I lost a son with Ryan. It was very traumatic for all of us. Prayers go out to Burrell.”

Cornuet also was an avid hunter and fisherman, and dabbled in cooking. He made dinner for his mother, Pamela, on Tuesday.

His father, Raymond, president of the Burrell Gridiron parent's club, remembers the last words he spoke to his son.

“I told him I love him,” Raymond said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4689. Staff writers Brian Rittmeyer, Chuck Biedka and Bill West contributed.

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