Three deaths hit Gator Nation hard

What started off as a sunny, promising weekend in Gainesville ended on a sadly somber note after a trio of deaths in the Gator Nation.

On Friday, former Florida running back Tony Waters was shot and killed by his stepson in his Sarasota home, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The Tribune reported that his 28-year-old stepson has been charged in Waters’ death after calling the police and informing them he was responsible. Waters was 54.

He lettered at Florida in 1977 and 1978, leading the Gators in punt return yardage during the 1978 season with eight returns for 124 yards. He also rushed for 73 yards on 26 carries that year while hampered by injuries.

Early Sunday afternoon, the news grew worse for Florida fans.

Dwayne Schintzius, a former center for the Gators who helped lead the program to its first three NCAA Tournament appearances, passed away after losing his battle with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.

The former Florida big man was diagnosed with the cancer in 2009, but was declared cancer-free in 2010 following a bone marrow transplant.

In 2011, he returned to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the first time after a 21-year absence following a tumultuous finish to his career at Florida.

The home crowd gave him a loud standing ovation when he appeared on the Jumbotron during Florida’s game against Georgia.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Schintzius, 43, passed away from respiratory failure following a treatment for complications from a failed bone marrow transplant he had received.

The news of his death rippled through the Gator Nation over the weekend, with several former players voicing their sympathy and heartfelt prayers to the Schintzius family through various forms of social media.

“Thoughts and prayers go out to the family of gator Dwayne Schintzius,” tweeted Florida coach Billy Donovan on Monday morning.

Schintzius is credited by many with helping turn around the Florida basketball program. He is the only player in Southeastern Conference history to score more than 1,000 points, grab 800 rebounds, dish out 250 assists and block 250 shots.

He was the second McDonald’s All-American to come to Florida, following Eugene McDowell in 1981. He became the first Florida player to earn SEC All-Freshman honors for his play during the 1986-87 season.

He led the SEC in blocked shots in 1987 and 1988, before leading the SEC in rebounding in 1989. He still holds Florida’s all-time blocked shots record, as well as the record for single season blocks, which he holds over Joakim Noah by one (96).

He also ranks sixth all-time in games started with 110 and sixth in scoring with 1,624 points.

On Sunday, the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications lost one of its own when 26-year-old student Michael R. Edmonds Jr. died after falling from a staircase on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Police have said the death is most likely a suicide, and its effects are being felt by many in the journalism program at Florida.

Anyone battling depression or having thoughts of suicide can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.