Numbers might have defined Tim McNerney’s football career, but they didn’t come close to defining who he was off the field.
That was one of the messages Mike Sirianni expressed to a large crowd of mourners Thursday night in front of the Burnett Center on the Washington & Jefferson College campus. They were there to grieve the loss of McNerney, the starting tailback on the football team, who was beaten to death in Washington early Thursday morning.
Those who cared about the senior had a chance to express their feelings, some through words but most through their presence and most with a rainfall of tears. Hundreds of students, administrators, friends and family were there standing silently and in pain.
Sirianni, who has coached McNerney since the Knoch High School graduate arrived on campus three years ago, said McNerney was someone special and not just because of his football talent.
“I would make fun of his singing, and he would make fun of my clothes,” Sirianni told the large crowd.
“As a coach, you are going to have favorite players, and Tim will always be that person to me. He played every play like it was his last.”
Senior running back DeAndre Simmons spoke for the football team, telling the crowd McNerney was “my brother.”
“Look at the person next to you,” Simmons said. “You never know when it’s your last day, so tell them you love them.”
Besides football, McNerney had an interest in creative writing and was known as quite the rapper.
“Every team has a player like Tim,” said Bill Dukett, W&J’s athletic director. “To quote the eulogy, if you were going to yell at him, he was going to yell back at you. If you were going to laugh at him, he was going to laugh back at you. He’s a perfect kid who took the edge off practice. He knew when the time came to play; he played hard. As a coach, that’s what you wanted to see. But he was more than just a football player.”
McNerney’s death called into question whether the Presidents (3-0, 4-1) would play their Presidents’ Athletic Conference game at Thomas More (1-2, 1-3) Saturday afternoon, but Sirianni said McNerney would not have wanted the game postponed.
“Tim loved football,” Sirianni said. “So we’re going to play football. I think it’s the best way to honor him. We didn’t even think about not playing. He wouldn’t have wanted that. The best way to honor him is to play as hard as we can, whether we win or we lose. I don’t know what type of team will show up ... but one thing is we will give effort.”
McNerney rushed for 850 yards and scored eight touchdowns last season and had rushed for 461 yards and four TDs this year.
Joe Onderko, commissioner of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, attended the vigil.
“We are so deeply saddened for the W&J community and the McNerney family,” Onderko said. “Our prayers go out to all those who were affected by this terrible tragedy.”
Mike King coached at McNerney’s alma mater, Knoch High School in Saxonburg, for 20 seasons, the last 15 as head coach. He had a close relationship with McNerney and the two kept in touch even after McNerney graduated.
“I’m still trying to come to grips with it,” said King in a shaky voice. “He would text me before games and wish me good luck. He went to success on his own, but he always remembered Knoch High School and the people there.”
King said McNerney was one of the toughest players he ever coached.
“He was a natural-born football player,” King said. “You look up the definition of football player in the dictionary, and you would see a picture of him. No one played the game harder than Tim did, and Mike Sirianni will tell you the same thing. I’ve never known a finer young man. We’re all trying to deal with this.”