Stampeders rally around receiver Joe West after murder of his brother
CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders are giving receiver Joe West the time and support he needs to cope with the death of his brother.
Brandon Hobdy, a 23-year-old receiver at Southern Arkansas University, was shot dead off-campus early Sunday morning. Within hours of learning of the tragedy, a grieving West had 129 yards on four catches in Calgary’s 32-7 win over the Redblacks in Ottawa.
The Stampeders gathered at a residential golf course Monday morning in Calgary for their annual charity tournament which raises money for high school athletics.
Head coach and general manager John Hufnagel awaited word from West on funeral arrangements and his travel plans.
“He’s doing as well as can be expected,” Hufnagel said. “His teammates were there to help him through it. He played the game. He played the game with a lot of emotion, obviously. But he was able to control it. Joe was always a respected player on our football team, but that grew leaps and bounds yesterday.”
While West flew back to Calgary with the Stampeders on Sunday night, SAU held a candlelight vigil for Hobdy at Wilkins Stadium in Magnolia, Ark.
Hobdy and 24-year-old Wayne Payton were identified as the victims in a double homicide investigation, according to a Columbia County Sheriff’s statement.
West, 30, is in his third season with the Stampeders. He was born in Melbourne, Fla., but played high school and college football in Texas.
His 58-yard catch from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in the third quarter Sunday afternoon put Calgary within 20 yards of the end zone, although the Stampeders turned the ball over on that drive.
“His courage and strength yesterday, man, it speaks volume as to what type of guy he is,” linebacker Juwan Simpson said. “I was talking to a few guys and honestly . . . I don’t know if I could have played. For him to go out there and not only play but have a great game, it says a lot.
“Different people handle things differently. (We’ll) just be there for him whenever he wants to talk. Whatever he wants, we’ll give it to him. If he needs time, I’m sure Huf will give him time.”
There was little time between West learning of his brother’s death and the game. He and Hufnagel didn’t discuss his participation until they met in the locker-room prior to kickoff.
“He told me he wanted to play,” Hufnagel said. “I said ’Joe, do whatever you want to do. If you have to go home, whenever you have to go home, if you don’t want to play, whatever you want to do, that’s fine with me.’
“I was very pleased that he had the opportunity to make some game-deciding plays to help us win the game. I was hoping that would happen because I thought it would be important for the type of day that it was.”
Team chaplain Rodd Sawatzky had accompanied the team to Ottawa. He provided counselling for West and the Stampeders.
Veteran slotback Nik Lewis struggled with his emotions during the game. His younger brother A.J. Ray and Hobdy were friends and Muleriders teammates at SAU.
“It was especially hard for me,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to have fun, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel in that situation because I’ve never been in a situation like that.
“We all go through a bunch of stuff in life outside of football that never gets put in the media. We’re there for each other all the time. This just happened to be something that’s really tragic and senseless. We’ll just continue to be there for each other.”
Calgary receiver Martell Mallett knows West’s feelings. While Mallett was a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012, his brother Michael was shot and killed in Pine Bluff, Ark.
“At the time, I just wanted to talk to people who had been in similar situations,” Mallett said. “You have something in common and they know the hurt.”
Mallett is on Calgary’s injured list and didn’t make the trip to Ottawa. Knowing West would be inundated with phone calls and text messages, Mallett reached out to him via text.
“Once I heard about it, it hurt me so bad,” Mallett said. “My heart dropped just like it was a family member of mine. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll talk over the next few weeks, but I just wanted to let him know first and foremost ’man I love you and I know where you come from.”’