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TRAGEDY: Brighton alum, former NFL QB, Finnerty dies of natural causes on fishing trip in Lake County

By: Scott Burnstein, May 30, 2013, 10:00 am

Former Brighton High School football star Cullen Finnerty, who went on to have a dizzyingly successful college career and a cup of coffee in the NFL, will be put to rest next week in a funeral in his home town, days after his body was found by one-time coaches and teammates in a Lake County woods. 

Finnerty, 30 and an alumn of Grand Valley State, went missing over the weekend while on a fishing trip with family on the Westside of the state, less than 70 miles outside of Grand Rapids. He was found dead Tuesday a short distance from his last-known whereabouts. An autopsy on Wednesday showed no signs of foul play, but couldn’t determine the exact cause of death. Further tests on Finnerty’s heart and brain will be conducted to try to pinpoint the specifics.

His family has stated that in a phone call he said he was feeling disoriented and was leaving his fishing post on the river and intended on returning to the cottage they were staying in. In the hours prior, he had decided to go off by himself to fish alone.

While in college in the early-to mid-2000s, Finnerty (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) quarterbacked Grand Valley State to three Division II national championships (’03, ’05, ’06). Starting his collegiate career at the Division I level (playing at Toledo), he landed in Allendale in 2002 and wound up being one of the most prolific field generals in NCAA history.

During his senior campaign in 2006, Finnerty was named an All-American, throwing for 3,220 yards and 41 touchdowns, leading the nation in quarterback-efficiency rating (169.32). He scored a total of 49 touchdowns, running in eight of them himself.

His time in the NFL was spent with the Baltimore Ravens (active roster & practice squad) and the Denver Broncos (training camp) in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

As a prepster at Brighton, he was named Livingston County Player of the Year in 2000 (senior season), racking up 2,000 yards passing and close to 700 yards rushing and leading the Bulldogs to a league crown and an undefeated regular season. When he was a junior, he led Brighton to a district title.

Finnerty’s body was discovered via a search team made up friends, family, former coaches and teammates. Current Grand Valley State head coach Matt Mitchell and former Lakers sideline general, Chuck Martin, currently the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, participated in the search party.

Martin and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelley coached Finnerty at Grand Valley State. Mitchell, an assistant at the time Finnerty played for the Lakers, was his position coach.

The funeral for Finnerty is scheduled for Tuesday.