OSKALOOSA, Ia.— This community gathered Friday at its football stadium, fittingly, to remember the life of Tyler Sash.
The former University of Iowa star and Super Bowl winner was found dead Tuesday morning in his Oskaloosa home at the age of 27.
Friday afternoon's one-hour memorial service at Oskaloosa Community Stadium included family members, former teammates and community members who grieved a young life cut short. Many locals wore replica jerseys of the New York Giants or the No. 9 Hawkeye jersey Sash wore during an all-Big Ten Conference career in Iowa City.
The service opened with the Oskaloosa High School fight song, and it ended with the Hawkeye fight song. In between, mourners shared a window into Sash's heart and personal struggles.
"Most of us knew Tyler by these jerseys," longtime family pastor Bryan Latchaw told the crowd of more than 1,000, pointing to those Sash wore representing Oskaloosa, Iowa and the NFL's Giants. "You peel back, though, the jersey, you take away the accomplishments, you fold back all that we thought he was, there was underneath a young man, like all of us, who struggled. Like all of us, God gives abilities. And like all of us, needs grace."
The cause of Sash's death has not been determined. Toxicology results are expected in four to six weeks, according to the Iowa State Medical Examiner's office. An autopsy performed Wednesday determined there was "no acute trauma."
Latchaw described Sash, who often professed his Christian faith, as "shy and generous" and devoted to helping the Oskaloosa community via the Tyler Sash Foundation and his hashtag usage of #GBNB, which encouraged those dealing with difficult circumstances to "Get Better, Not Bitter."
A friend named Joe told a story about going out to dinner with Sash one night. Sash asked to pray before the meal. After Sash's death, he realized,
"The Tyler I knew, knew the grace of God — a God who forgives, a God who understands all of our struggles, and a God who longs for a relationship with broken and battered people," Latchaw said."Everything you said in that prayer was for me. Everything you asked God for that night, He has done."
"Tyler really wanted to grow in the Lord. A relationship with Christ ebbs and flows. It's not always the perfect relationship on our side."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta was in attendance. Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz and several assistants attended Thursday's visitation at Fellowship Bible Church in Oskaloosa.
There will be a moment of silence before Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State football showdown in Ames to remember Sash, and Iowa players will wear a No. 9 decal on one side of their helmets during the game. Sash had three interceptions in the 2009 Cy-Hawk game and is the school's all-time leader in interception-return yardage.
Former Oskaloosa football coach Jerry Staton said this week that after Sash's NFL career ended a few days after he suffered a concussion in a 2013 preseason game, "Tyler just couldn't seem to find his footing as to what he wanted to do."
Sash's parents, Michael and Barney Sash, did not speak Friday, but his father gave Latchaw a note to read aloud.
"That if Tyler had the opportunity to address young people here today, he would encourage you to develop those talents given you, and make the most of opportunities that come from your talents."