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Sports

Graham attends funeral for ex-player

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

Todd Graham was pleased by his first big Pitt victory, but he coached the game amidst great personal sadness.

Two days after the game last Thursday against South Florida, Graham spoke at the funeral of one of his players at Tulsa, linebacker George Clinkscale, who died Sept. 21 after participating in a boxing match at a church in Tulsa, Okla.

"It was one of the hardest things I had to do," Graham said. "It was very, very difficult. Naturally, the thing that gave me peace is knowing where he's at. He's in a better place."

Clinkscale, 24, suffered cramps while boxing in an unsanctioned event at the Guts Church. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died. A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office said an official cause of death may not be available for several weeks.

"Much too young," said Graham of Clinkscale, a high school coach whose wife is expecting the couple's second child. "It's tough. You are sad and grieve, but I have hope in my heart because I know he's in heaven."

Graham recruited Clinkscale to Tulsa from Cedar Hill, Texas, where he played nose tackle at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds. At Tulsa, Clinkscale played linebacker from 2005-09.

"George had an unbelievable passion for the game," Graham said.

Clinkscale also had a strong faith, Graham said.

"It was something we had talked about many times," he said. "What he stood for and how he lived his life, I was pretty proud of the fact I got to spend time with him."

When Clinkscale's family called Graham to ask him to speak at the eulogy in Dallas, he set aside initial preparations for Pitt's game at Rutgers and made the trip.

"It was a big honor for me to do it," Graham said. "It was something I thought was important."

It wasn't the first time Graham spoke at a funeral of one of his players.

When Graham was coach at Rice in 2006, freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd collapsed at practice and died of complications due to a sickle cell trait.

To this day, Graham encourages his players to take a sickle cell test with their regular physical examination.

Three years after Lloyd's death, his family settled a lawsuit with Rice because it didn't test for sickle cell.

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