University of Arizona lineman Hemmila dies in his sleep

Published: Aug. 8, 2016 at 1:58 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats football coach Rich Rodriguez paused, wiping away tears while trying to find the right words.

"The only thought on my mind right now is with Zach Hemmila's family," Rodriguez told a small gathering of reporters Monday morning. "We lost a great young man. Everybody in our program is hurting."

Rodriguez had, minutes earlier, told the team the shocking news -- Hemmila, a fifth-year senior and the Wildcats' projected starting center, had died overnight night in his sleep.

Neither Rodriguez nor athletic director Greg Byrne, at his side, said they had further details.

Byrne said grief counselors from campus would be available to players, coaches and staff.

"As Coach said, he was a great young man, and we're just so deeply saddened," Byrne said. "Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and teammates and the coaches."

The 22-year-old Hemmila, from Chandler High, was part of Rodriguez's first recruiting class at Arizona in 2012. The former four-star recruit worked his way into the starting spot at left guard for six games last season and was the favorite to replace departed Cayman Bundage at center this year.

"It is devastating for me, especially how close we are with the family," Chandler football coach Shaun Aguano told KOLD's Dave Cooney. "I then proceeded to call the dad and spoke with him and he couldn't talk. So it's been a whirlwind today; our prayers are with the family, but it's been a very, very tough day for us."

Former Arizona teammate Jake Fischer recalled Hemmila as "extremely well liked, a great kid, was loved by all."

Rodriguez said he had a long talk with Hemmila just two nights ago.

"He just out of the blue came down and sat beside me and talked for about 45 minutes about everything, about how happy he was," Rodriguez said.

The school, teammates and ex-teammates shared thoughts on social media:

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