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Waiting for the phone to ring
No one called. Did anyone answer his call?
By: Richard Linde, 4 June 2002

On Saturday, September 16, 2000, Rick Neuheisel led his Washington Husky football team onto Folsom Field to play the Colorado Buffaloes, under the most bitter of circumstances. Hard feelings and acrimony still lingered in Boulder, nineteen months after Neuheisel had accepted a lucrative offer from Washington’s athletic director, Barbara Hedges, to coach the Huskies and leave the Buffs. 

 

The local media and the faithful fans at Folsom wanted to exact some revenge; they wanted a payback--a Colorado win--for Neuheisel’s unexpected departure. 

 

Late in the game, with Washington leading 17-14, cornerback Anthony Vontoure stripped the ball way from Colorado receiver Eric McCready, on a play that ended Colorado’s vendetta. Larry Tripplett recovered the fumble. That moment sealed Washington’s win and made certain Coach Neuheisel left Boulder with his dignity intact and his head held high.

 

He had Anthony Vontoure to thank for that.

 

A week before, in the Miami game, the talented Vontoure sacked Hurricanes’ quarterback Ken Dorsey on a cornerback blitz, forcing a fumble that Vontoure recovered, setting up the Huskies’ third touchdown. That key play against Miami earned him the coach’s defensive MVP honors.

Last Friday at 4AM, Vontoure, 22, died  after a struggle with two Sacramento County, Calif., sheriff's deputies outside an apartment. The cause of death has not been determined. "At no point did officers ever strike him, nor did they use any control holds," Sheriff's spokesman Sergeant James Lewis was quoted as saying. [Grump].  

According to the police report, Vontoure was hallucinating, screaming that “men in green masks” were going to get him. [Grump].

After an autopsy failed to show the cause of death, it was determined that toxicology tests will be needed. It make take months to determine the cause of death.

According to newspapers accounts of the incident, Vontoure may have suffered from bipolar disorder or from some other form of depression or mental illness. For those people suffering from such conditions, aberrant behavior can be a cry for help, as well as being a symptom of such diseases. Many times victims of mental illness will use illegal substances and/or alcohol to ease their pain, which only exacerbates the condition.

Although their behavior is a call for help, many times the line on the other end is busy. Even worse for them, these unfortunate souls can be the object of ridicule, since their behavior is not readily understood by others.

Mental problems may explain the run-ins Anthony had with Washington coaches during his stint with the Huskies. Vontoure was disciplined seven times by Washington coaches, and before the start of last season, he and Coach Neuheisel agreed it would be best for him to leave the program. Coach Dick Baird, who helped recruit him, was certain Vontoure received counseling for his condition while at Washington. The Huskies recruited him knowing he had behavioral problems. [Withers].

Last season, Vontoure enrolled at Portland State, which seemed to be a better milieu for him, since some of his high school teammates were there, along with his position coach, Nigel Burton, who had been a teammate of his at Washington.

A caring, loving person, Vontoure was deeply affected by the loss of his older brother Chris, who died in a drowning accident in 1993. He was also deeply saddened by the 911 tragedy, and reportedly left Portland State because the reaction by Portland State was "not sufficiently reverential to what had happened," his stepmother Mari Martinez-Vontoure was quoted as saying.  "He was disillusioned." [Cokran].

According to his father Michael Sr., Vontoure twice returned cash-laden wallets, routinely gave money to homeless people and lived for football. [Cokran].

A letter written by his father will be read at Vontoure's funeral Friday at St. Agnes Church in Concord. Services begin at 12:30 p.m. Visitation is scheduled for Thursday night at 7 at Ouimet Bros -- Concord Funeral Chapel.

Whether Vontoure was suffering from a mental problem, a behavioral problem or just an out-of-control temper at times, he obviously deserved more consideration from the fans. [Miller]

According to a quote in the Seattle Times, Nigel Burton remembers Vontoure as someone who, "95 percent of the time, he was just a great guy. (But) when he'd get down, he'd get really down. He would be really hard on himself. I think what a lot of the public has heard, through newspapers, I don't think they have one clue. He was a pretty special guy." [Withers].

Responding to a question from one of his readers, David Samek of dawgman.com had this to say about Vontoure, “Anthony Vontoure and the UW parted ways, a mutual decision. He reportedly is at Portland State this year and will be a senior. I have a hunch that you may see him in the NFL next year (2002). He's very talented. It's a shame that he and the UW coaches weren't able to find a solution to the issues involved in that situation, but life goes on. Lets' hope Anthony does well because he's not a bad kid at all. Just confused, and his temper got him into trouble.”

On a personal note, I met Anthony Vontoure at Curtis Williams’ funeral in Fresno. I found him to be an extremely nice person, a guy with whom I wanted to chat with again. I’ll never forget his friendly smile, along with that touch of ingenuousness and candidness. He wore his personality on his sleeve, so obvious for all to see. He told me he was waiting for the phone to ring. "I was gone for a little while and might have missed it," he said sincerely.

That haunting moment in my life will forever be with me. 

The phone has finally rung, and AV’s answered it. God bless him.
 

References:

[Withers]. Withers, Bud, Definitive cause not determined in Vontoure's death; Police suspect drugs played a function,” The Seattle Times, 4 June 2002.

[Grump]. Grump, Gwendolyn, “Man dies as officers try to take him in,” The Sacramento Bee, June 1, 2002.

[Cokran]. Cokran, Steve, "Vontoure remembered as caring, loving person," Contra Costa Times, June 3, 2002.

[Miller]. Miller, Ted, "A life cut short: Anthony Vontoure's 22 years were filled with turmoil," Seattle Post Intelligencer, 2 July 2002.

 

Anthony Vontoure (6-1, 190), born July 8, 1979; died May 31, 2002.

1996. Led his De La Salle High School team to a 14-0 record and number one ranking in California. He was chosen to the Cal-Hi Sports first team, all-state squad.

1997. Redshirted at Washington

1998. Backup behind Nigel Burton at rover back. Was limited in the second half of the season by a broken hand.

1999. Switched from safety to cornerback. Started in nine games. Missed the Oregon game due to a suspension. A groin pull limited his action in the last two games of the season. Led the defense with six interceptions. Led the defense with six pass breakups. Returned interceptions for scores against Oregon State and Arizona. Named the KING-TV Most Improved Defensive Player.

2000. Against Colorado Vontoure stripped the ball away from receiver Eric McCready, and Larry Tripplett recovered the fumble. That play in the game ensured Washington’s victory over the Buffs.  A week before in the Miami game, Vontoure sacked Hurricanes’ quarterback Ken Dorsey on a cornerback blitz, forcing a fumble that he recovered, which set up the Huskies’ third touchdown. That key play against Miami earned him the coach’s defensive MVP honors. He started in five games and missed two. He missed the Cal and Arizona games because of a foot injury and missed the Washington State game because of a hand injury that required surgery 

2001. Transferred to Portland State. Decided to leave after three weeks.

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