By Mike Householder
---- — DETROIT (AP) — One of the winningest quarterbacks in college football history has been missing for days and family members expressed concern he may have suffered "a mental episode," a Michigan law enforcement official said yesterday.
Cullen Finnerty, who led Grand Valley State University to three Division II national titles and more than 50 wins during his four years as a starter in Allendale, Mich., last decade, went missing Sunday while fishing along the Baldwin River, not far from where his family owns a cottage.
Finnerty, 30, last spoke to a family member that night in a phone call in which he said "he was nervous about something," Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts said. Based on that call, the family suspected "he might be having some kind of a mental episode — that he was either afraid or something and ran off into the woods," Hilts said.
The sheriff said authorities had been tracking Finnerty's cellphone "until it went dead." Searchers found a small pontoon boat Finnerty was using to fish, but no other trace of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound ex-athlete.
Searchers will have their work cut out for them, Hilts said.
"This is the last river that I'd pick to fish," he said, citing logjams and dense brush. "And it's a very tough river to navigate."
Searchers from the sheriff's office, state police and area fire departments were fanning out across a square-mile area of Webber Township, about 65 miles north of Grand Rapids.
"We will search until we find him," Hilts said.
In addition, dozens of current and former Grand Valley State players, coaches and staff hopped on a bus and headed north to Lake County to lend a hand in the search effort.
Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell, who was a defensive assistant when Finnerty led the Lakers to national titles in 2005 and 2006, as well as former GVSU coach and current Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin were among those expected to help.
"Everybody's just kind of anxious to get up there and see how we can help," said Mitchell, who added that the volunteer searchers were urged to bring backpacks and stay hydrated as they navigated "the difficult terrain."
Finnerty, who starred at Brighton High School, originally accepted an offer to play at the University of Toledo but transferred to Grand Valley after redshirting in 2001.
The dual-threat QB played for Grand Valley teams that won Division II titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006, and he briefly was a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was GVSU's coach during the 2003 national championship season.
"He's held in very high regard," Mitchell said of Finnerty. "He was the starting quarterback on national championship teams. But he's more than that: He's one of the most loyal teammates we've ever had."