At 11:23 p.m. Sunday, Arizona Wildcats defensive end Justin Belknap received a text message from his mother, Anna.
Did you hear about what happened tonight in Vegas?
Belknap soon learned that there had been a shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, his hometown. He cracked open his computer. He checked every social media outlet. He furiously texted his friends.
“I was very alarmed and confused, scared for my family’s and my friends’ well-being,” Belknap said Wednesday. “I knew a good amount of people at that concert.”
Fifty-eight people were killed, and more than 500 were injured when Stephen Paddock fired on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival from a suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort. No one Belknap knew was seriously injured. It could have been a lot worse for him and his family.
Belknap’s parents, his brother and his brother’s wife were thinking about attending the concert. They changed their mind at the last minute. They had to work the next morning.
“I made sure my brother and his wife weren’t there. They weren’t, thank God,” said Belknap, one of five current UA players from the Las Vegas area. “My brother’s wife’s best friend was there. My brother’s best friend and his family were there. They made it out all right.
“One of my friends from high school got grazed in the arm. He’s OK, though.
“Thank God so many people got out OK. It’s just the most unfortunate event that could have occurred.”
Like everyone else who has a connection to Las Vegas, Belknap has struggled to deal with the shock and scale of Sunday’s mass shooting. The third-year sophomore’s first instinct was to hop in his car and drive home — a 400-plus-mile commute — to donate blood or do “whatever I can for my community.” Knowing he had practice early Tuesday morning, Belknap thought better of it.
But he didn’t sleep much that night, finally going to bed around 4 a.m. Monday, the players’ day off, was difficult.
“It was a tough day,” Belknap said. “There’s really nothing you can do to take your mind off it.”
Belknap doesn’t have class on Mondays. He worked out and got treatment. He was thankful to return to the practice field the next morning.
“It’s therapeutic in the midst of all this happening,” Belknap said. “If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
Belknap is proud of the way his city already has rallied, raising money and filling up blood banks. But anxiety lingers.
“It’s so uncomfortable having something like that happen five minutes away from where your family has lived for 18 years,” Belknap said.
Tony Fields, the father of UA freshman linebacker Tony Fields II, knows the feeling. The Fields family lives in the Green Valley neighborhood in Henderson, about 15 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The elder Tony and his wife, Lemisha, work at downtown Las Vegas hotels. Tony is a bartender at Bally’s, and he was working the night shift Sunday.
Tony II happened to be on the phone with a friend from back home when the friend received a call about the shooting. Tony II immediately tried to reach his father. The elder Tony didn’t answer at first because he was in the middle of his shift.
About 11:30 p.m., the elder Tony called his son and told him he was all right.
“It felt good for him to call and check,” the elder Fields said by phone Wednesday. “I’m usually the one checking on him. He was checking on dad this time.”
The younger Fields felt relief upon hearing from his father. His mother, asleep at home, hadn’t answered her phone either.
“There was a little bit of panic,” Tony II said. “Then again, I know my dad’s a smart man. I know he knows how to get out of situations. I knew he was going to be safe.”
The elder Fields said the casino at Bally’s was shut down, something he never had seen before in 20-plus years living and working in the Las Vegas area. Guests who were staying at the hotel were instructed to retreat to their rooms. Others were ushered to a safe place. Chaos reigned outside.
“People are running down the strip,” the elder Fields said. “Nobody knows where gunshots are coming from. Security wasn’t letting anybody in. Then they started letting people in. It was like pandemonium.”
Things have settled down to a degree since. The casinos have reopened. Tony has gone back to work. The Fields family will be in attendance for Arizona’s game at Colorado on Saturday. So will the Belknaps.
“I can’t wait to hug my son,” Anna Belknap said.
But it won’t feel normal for some time. Everyone is still talking about what happened. Everyone has stories about people they know who were there.
Two of the 58 victims killed were family friends of Colorado assistant coach Darrin Chiaverini. Two more coached against Tony Fields II in youth football.
“It’s so devastating,” Fields II said.
The freshman visited home over the weekend, when the Wildcats had a bye. He and his friends attended a concert in Las Vegas this past summer. His father couldn’t help but think about that as the tragedy unfolded Sunday night.
“That was the scary thing,” the elder Fields said. “That could have been him.”
- Defensive end/linebacker DeAndre’ Miller (foot) has been practicing and is expected to make his 2017 debut at Colorado. Don’t expect Miller to displace Kylan Wilborn at the “Stud” position. But Miller should rotate into the game. Wilborn, a freshman, has played well.
- Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre told reporters that Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins reminds him of Colin Kaepernick, whom MacIntyre coached against when Kaepernick was at Nevada and MacIntyre at San Jose State. “He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s fast,” MacIntyre said of Dawkins. “He is dynamic, and he can fly. He can throw the ball forever and has great arm strength. That’s what Kaepernick would do in college, he’d run everywhere and do that kind of thing.”
- UA coach Rich Rodriguez said he would like to get tailback J.J. Taylor “as many touches as we can.” Taylor’s touches (rushes plus receptions) so far: 9, 19, 14, 12. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
- Arizona received a verbal commitment from Tre Adams, a three-star receiver from Wakeland High in Frisco, Texas. Adams is listed at 6 feet 3 inches and will add size to a position of need.
- Snapper update: Going forward, Donald Reiter will focus on punts. Center Nathan Eldridge will handle placements. Tight end Trevor Wood will be his backup.