In interviews at Senior Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, WSU's Luke Falk addressed the death of his teammate, Tyler Hilinski, and advocates for more dialogue around suicide and suicide prevention

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Luke Falk was training for the NFL Draft in Southern California last week and preparing for this weekend’s Senior Bowl when he heard the news of Tyler Hilinski’s death.

It hit Falk hard, and like so many of his former Washington State teammates, Falk flew to Pullman last week to attend the candlelight vigil for Hilinski on Friday night.

“Words don’t describe the hurt we all felt as a team, and seeing his family,” Falk said Tuesday at a news conference during Senior Bowl media day in Mobile, Ala. “Having that candlelight vigil helped us have some closure. But it’s always going to be with us.”

Warning signs of suicide

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. The more of the signs below that a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide.
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

[ More details emerge about events leading up to WSU QB Tyler Hilinski’s death ]

Falk donned a white baseball cap with Hilinski’s No. 3 on the side in crimson as he spoke to Senior Bowl media. It was the same hat he wore at Hilinski’s candlelight vigil, along with a customized crimson T-shirt with a big, white “3” on the front.

The Cougars’ former starting quarterback wept during the vigil, and shared a long, emotional hug with WSU coach Mike Leach toward the end.

He announced on Saturday that he would wear Hilinski’s No. 3 jersey instead of his own iconic No. 4 at the Senior Bowl this week and told media Tuesday he made the decision because, “I felt like it’s what I needed to do.”

“He needs to be remembered,” Falk said. “He was an amazing person, an amazing soul. This guy was one of the most outgoing, bubbly (people). Just a guy you really want to be around, and people need to know it.”

Falk also took the opportunity to address the issue of suicide and how important it is for a dialogue on suicide prevention to take place in the wake of his teammate’s death.

Related: WSU community comes out in full force to honor Tyler Hilinski

“I think we really want Tyler to be remembered, and for this to be talked about,” Falk said. “When suicide is the second leading cause of death for men from (ages) 18 to 45, it should be talked about, and we should do something about it.”

Hilinski, 21, was a redshirt sophomore who would have opened spring camp with WSU as the Cougars’ likely starting quarterback. He died last Tuesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and the Whitman County Coroner subsequently confirmed that the manner of Hilinski’s death was a suicide.

Falk spoke eloquently in Mobile about how the culture of masculinity within football needs to change.

“At times, we feel like we can’t express our emotions because we’re in a masculine sport,” Falk said. “Him being the quarterback, people look up to you as a leader and so he felt, probably, that he really couldn’t talk to anybody. So we’ve gotta change some of that stuff. We’ve gotta have resources and not have any more stigma about people going to them.”

Falk and Hilinski were close during their three years in Pullman together. Hilinski has served as his backup for the last two seasons, and the younger quarterback often spoke glowingly about how much he’d learned from watching Falk’s work habits and studying film with him.

“Tyler and I had a great relationship,” Falk said. “It wasn’t like the regular quarterback competition. We had a great (quarterback competition) too, but he’d always give me pointers and I always gave him pointers. He always pushed me to be the best, and at the end of the day it was all love.

“And I think it was just really sad for all of us, being around the guy for three years, spending a lot of time with him, and knowing who he really is and the type of guy he was. I can’t put it into words.”

The reasons that led Hilinski to take his own life are still unknown. The quarterback left a suicide note alongside the rifle he used, but Pullman Police said Tuesday that, per state law, the contents of the suicide note can only be released to family.

Meanwhile, even though Hilinski’s parents met with the whole WSU football team last week and repeatedly stressed that none of them should blame themselves for Hilinski’s death, Falk says he still wonders, sometimes, if there was anything he could have done.

“All of us who were closest to him just go back and ask ourselves, ‘Were there signs? What could we have done?’” Falk said. “We all feel a little bit of guilt. I wish I could have given him one more hug, a pat on the butt one more time. Just to let him know he’s loved.”

Offensive lineman Cole Madison, who is also in Mobile for the Senior Bowl this week, echoed Falk’s comments.

“It’s been pretty brutal. Especially for the older guys who considered (Hilinski) like the little brother of our group. It (hit) home really hard,” Madison told Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm. “We didn’t understand why. Still don’t. … You piece things together again and you’re not sure … could I have done anything?’ You just don’t know, but you can’t help thinking that.”