CLEARWATER, Fla. — The family of former Gilbert Highland standout Marquis Cooper and two other football players lost at sea watched as the search entered its third day Tuesday, with odds stacking against their hope the Coast Guard could still find survivors in a chilly sea.
Bruce Cooper, the father of Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV (Channel 12) in Phoenix, said the Coast Guard told him privately that officials were losing hope because of the time that has passed and the possibility them men would be suffering from hypothermia.
But free-agent lineman Corey Smith's sister, Yolanda Newbill, said they were still hearing otherwise.
"That is not what is being communicated to us," she said, adding that the family is still "definitely optimistic."
Crews were also searching for 25-year-old William Bleakley, a former South Florida player also on the fishing trip Saturday when the boat capsized in rough seas.
The lone survivor so far, Nick Schuyler, was rescued Monday after a Coast Guard cutter crew spotted him from a half-mile away, clutching the boat's hull.
Operations Coordinator Mike Briner first noticed something in the distance as crewman peered out the window.
"I wasn't sure what it was. I got binoculars, and sure enough it was a person sitting on top of a boat," Briner said.
That they were able to see him at all was a considerable feat given the rough conditions, said Patrick Peschka, lieutenant commander of the Coast Guard cutter that located him. Peschka said visibility in the prevailing weather was typically limited to 100 or 200 yards.
"We were in about 4- to 6-foot seas, somewhat overcast with a little bit of sunshine coming through, so it was very difficult to see," Peschka said.
The cutter sped to Schuyler within 10 minutes, finding a castaway weary but coherent enough to follow instructions, Briner said. A hospital official said the 24-year-old was in fair condition and did not want to speak with reporters.
Conditions had improved for two Coast Guard aircraft and three cutters. The crews were following a southern drift pattern in 1- to 3-foot seas. The Coast Guard found a dark jacket floating in the water several miles from the boat. There was no name on it, but Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close said investigators assume it is related to the case.
Things were beginning to look more grim for the three still lost. Hypothermia can set in after 18 hours in 64-degree water, and Gulf of Mexico temperatures were in the mid- to upper-60s.
Working in the men's favor are their size and physical condition. Cooper, 26, is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds; Smith, 29, is 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds; and Bleakley is a former tight end and current physical trainer.
"A person's underlying physical condition will contribute to their outcome. Being in shape definitely helps," said Dr. Michael McFarland, a physician at Tampa General Hospital.
But that isn't enough to survive indefinitely, McFarland said.
"To be honest, it's somewhat dire," he said. "To be exposed to this temperature of water for this amount of time is dangerous."
Schuyler told rescuers the boat flipped as they were pulling up the anchor in the evening, Close said. None were wearing life vests at the time, but they managed to swim under the boat, grab the vests and put them on, he said.
Close said the men were able to stay together for a while, but somehow got separated. Schuyler was found about 35 miles off Clearwater — a lengthy jag for Cooper's 21-foot Everglades.
The Coast Guard remained publicly optimistic, despite the growing concern.
"We're always hopeful, and we're going to stay out here until I'm told not to stay out here any longer," Peschka said. "Right now spirits are high and we're actively looking out and searching."
Bruce Cooper told Fox News in a phone interview Tuesday that his family was holding on to hope and optimism.
"He's just a fighter. He's an undersize linebacker ... and he just doesn't back down. He accepts the fight, and I know that's what he's doing in the water. He's not quitting," Cooper said about his son.
After graduating from highland, the younger Cooper played college ball at Washington, and has played sparingly for five seasons with five different NFL teams.
The four men left Clearwater Pass early Saturday in calm weather, but heavy winds picked up through the day and the seas got heavy, with waves of 7 feet and higher, peaking at 15 feet on Sunday. A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday after the men did not return as expected. The Coast Guard said it did not receive a distress signal.
The men were aboard an Everglades-manufactured boat, which is built with compressed foam encased in Fiberglas, making it difficult to sink. The weather had improved, with waves subsiding to 6 to 8 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Barron said.
However, Bob Zales, president of National Association of Charter Boat Operators, said waves that high can capsize a boat the size of Cooper's.
"A boat that size, personally, I wouldn't get out any farther than 20 or 30 miles offshore," Zales said. "But I see people all the time 40, 50 miles offshore."
The Raiders and Lions said in separate statements that the teams hope the men will be rescued and that their thoughts and prayers go out to their families.