CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) – As 24-year-old Nick Schuyler propped himself atop a small capsized boat bobbing in the ocean, he focused on one thing: He didn’t want his mother to have to attend his funeral.

He wasn’t sure what had happened to his three good friends who had been aboard for what was supposed to be a fun day of fishing, which they did every chance they got.

A Coast Guard cutter crew found Schuyler still clinging to the hull Monday, more than 36 hours after it capsized in rough seas, and a helicopter whisked him to a hospital. His three friends, Oakland Raiders linebacker and the boat’s owner, Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith and former South Florida player William Bleakley, remained missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Schuyler’s mother, Marsha, said the family is “ecstatic” the Coast Guard found her son, who told her at the hospital about his thoughts at sea.

Stuart Schuyler said his son is an instructor at L.A. Fitness and had helped train Smith and Cooper, who were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004. The family’s joy at Schuyler being found alive was tempered by the search that continued into the night for his friends.

“We still have three men missing, and we’re not going to talk too much until we find these guys,” Stuart Schuyler said. “We’re all praying for them. These guys are all very close friends.”

The men left early Saturday from Clearwater Pass in fair conditions. Bad weather rolled in later and high seas rocked and then swamped the anchored boat.

By Monday morning, rescuers had searched 16,000 square miles with no luck. Then, around noon, a crew spotted Schuyler sitting atop the boat with his life vest on, about 35 miles off Clearwater.

His father said Schuyler was in serious but stable condition and that he “looks OK.”

“He’s got some cuts and bruises. He’s dehydrated,” Stuart Schuyler said.

As Schuyler recovers at a Tampa hospital, the families and friends of the three men await word.

“We have never lost hope,” said one of Smith’s sisters, Yolanda Newbill. “We have total faith that (he) will be coming home.”

She and other family members were driving to Florida from Richmond, Va., because the snowy weather in the East made getting a flight impossible. They have been in touch with the Coast Guard every few hours since the men were reported missing.

“Everybody’s praying,” Ray Sanchez, Cooper’s cousin, said. “My cousin’s a strong swimmer.”

USF football coach Jim Leavitt became emotional when talking about Bleakley, whom he described “a great young man, and loved dearly his parents and family.”

Just one weekend before, the four had again fished together, and Stuart Schuyler figures they were probably heading back to a shipwreck where the fish are abundant.

Waves had subsided to 6 to 8 feet, from up to 15 feet Sunday, the National Weather Service said. Water temperature was in the mid- to upper-60s, raising concerns about hypothermia.

The Coast Guard wouldn’t speculate on the men’s chances of survival, but Petty Officer Robert Simpson said their size and good health were an advantage. Cooper, 26, is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and the 29-year-old Smith is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. The 25-year-old Bleakley had played tight end.

“With all of these men being past, present football players, they do have a much larger physique than a lot of people,” he said. “So their odds are going to be definitely in their favor.”

James Allen, a marine safety consultant who once worked search and rescue operations with the Coast Guard, said the chances of finding survivors diminish after people have been in the water three days.

People have been found who were floating for days, but Allen added “you just can’t swim forever.” After 18 hours in 64-degree water, hypothermia will set in, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class James Harless said.

Smith of Richmond, Va., had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for the Detroit Lions. He also had played for the San Francisco 49ers and was a standout at North Carolina State.

Cooper played college ball at Washington, and has spent five seasons with five different teams, appearing in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005. He’s played sparingly since. He grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix.

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