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Football players gather at memorial for Brandon Hall

The players who earlier had arrived by bus together and sat united during Brandon Hall’s memorial mourned in their own ways as they spread out among empty Williams Arena seats.

Tight end Ben Utecht, whose father, Pastor Jeffrey Utecht resided over the ceremony, sat by himself with tears in his eyes.

Defensive back Dominique Sims was surrounded by teammates and friends with his head hung low, while others tried to console Hall’s former roommate.

Only an hour earlier, Utecht and Sims stood strong on the arena floor to honor their friend and teammate.

Sims was one of seven speakers during the ceremony, while Utecht and teammate Dan Nystrom sang “Amazing Grace.”

“He touched a lot of people,” Sims said. “He touched us all. I don’t know what to say. I love you Brandon. We all love you.”

Hall was fatally shot early Sunday morning in downtown Minneapolis after an altercation between Hall, teammates and three men who allegedly stole a gold necklace from Gopher Damian Haye.

Approximately 1,000 people showed up at the arena to memorialize Hall. Among those in attendance were Hall’s mother Dorothy, his minister Stephen Bell, Interim University President Robert Bruininks and Athletics Director Joel Maturi.

“Where we are at tonight is a house of mourning,” Bell said. “This great arena, where great cheers are done and great victories have been won, tonight, is a place of mourning.

“Brandon is now in a better place. In a place where there is no fear, there is no sorrow, there is no tears. I can guarantee you that Brandon has a smile on his face right now in heaven.”

Mason recounted Hall’s achievements at the University in three aspects: academically, athletically and socially. Mason spoke about some of Hall’s hardships.

Hall started at Minnesota as an academic partial-qualifier and eventually was ruled a non-qualifier.

He had to struggle and work his way through school to become a member of the Gophers, and eventually he wore the maroon and gold, Mason said.

“He worked hard and he persevered,” Mason said. “He got an opportunity to play in his first college football game, and the very first play he made a tackle. He proved he could play big-time football. He proved he belonged.”

In honor of the team, captains Asad Abdul-Khaliq and Mike Lehan gave Hall’s mother his No. 71 maroon home jersey.

Following the ceremony, most in attendance greeted his mother and offered their condolences.

Haye, whose assault and robbery eventually led to Hall’s death, was especially overwhelmed.

When Haye made his way to Mrs. Hall, the two hugged and broke into tears.

Defensive line coach Tom Sims eventually broke the embrace and led Haye out of the arena.

“Teammates,” Mason said. “A team. We have lately referred to the team as a family. We probably should have referred to it as a family all along. I have come to realize lately that people don’t really understand what a football team is all about.

“You can describe it as a bunch of kids, some rich, some poor, some fast, some slow, some weak, some strong, kids from farms, kids from cities, some black, some white. They all come together committed to achieving a goal.”

Hall’s funeral is being held at the Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Mich., on Monday. Coach Glen Mason will attend, but the rest of the Minnesota contingent is still to be determined.

Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]

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