Brent Woodall immersed himself in the University of California during his years as a Golden Bear. He was one of the rare multi-sport student-athletes at Cal in the late 1980s and early '90s, playing on both the Golden Bear football and baseball teams before graduating in 1993 with a degree in business.
Woodall was the kind of guy who never hogged the spotlight and could always be found smiling and enjoying himself. Unfortunately, Woodall was taken from his family, friends and the Cal community prematurely when he became one of the thousands of victims in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was at work as a stock trader and analyst at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods on the 89th floor of the South Tower, which was the second of the two buildings hit by a hijacked airplane that morning.
After the initial strike on the North Tower, Woodall phoned his father, John, to let him know he was unharmed. After hanging up with his son, John, who was living in La Jolla, Calif., took a shower, but when he finished, he found a blinking light on his answering machine. The message was from Woodall. He informed his father that his building had now been hit and he was going to try to get to safety.
For the next 10 days, Woodall was one of thousands of New Yorkers who had gone missing following the attacks. Eventually, the worries and fears of his loved ones had settled in as a devastating reality.
David Ortega, a former Cal football student-athlete and current compliance director in Cal Athletics, played football with Woodall for two years and remembers him fondly.
"I'd love for the Cal family to know that he loved this place," Ortega said. "He had some great years here with football and baseball. He enjoyed all of it to the fullest. He really engaged his full interest into this place and with everything he did. Everybody who came to know him really appreciated him for all that he gave to Cal."
Originally recruited as a linebacker, Woodall quickly found himself moving to fullback before eventually settling at tight end. He was part of two bowl-winning teams at Cal (1990 Copper Bowl, 1991 Citrus Bowl), including the offensive juggernaut in 1991 that finished the season ranked eighth in the country.
As Ortega put it, Woodall was the kind of football player who could do just about everything. Even if he was not great at a certain skill, he found a way to get it done.
Playing as a freshman at Arizona in 1988, Woodall was entrusted by then-head coach Bruce Snyder to throw a halfback pass - a play that was pretty rare to give to a freshman. The pass fell incomplete, but not at the fault of Woodall, whom Ortega credited with throwing a nice pass on the play.
"He could do anything," Ortega said. "He proved that all the time. If you asked him to do something, he'd just do it. He was that type of person, very smart and open. I just remember him always smiling and having a good time."
Lifelong friend Brad Ralston played football with Woodall at La Jolla High School and at Cal. Ralston has many fond memories of Woodall, including when the pair won the Cal football rookie talent show. Ralston and Woodall remained good friends following their graduation until the tragic day.
Ever the ultimate competitor, Woodall was just as driven to excel with his studies. Ralston said Woodall was motivated to do well at everything he was involved in, including school.
"Brent was as competitive in the classroom as he was on the field," Ralston said. "We both ended up becoming tutors at the study table. He was always good at school. He was a good student, a good athlete and a good person. He had no weaknesses. He was a solid guy in every sense of the word."
Brad Thompson, Woodall's college roommate, said Woodall's work ethic can be exemplified through a picture that he owned in his apartment in New York.
"He had a picture that he got from the media relations department at Cal," Thompson said. "He was almost fully laid out, parallel to the ground, trying to make a diving catch, but you can see the ball's coming out. He had it up in his apartment, and he always used to joke with people that he made the catch. But it showed that he gave full effort in everything he did."
A large portion of Thompson's collegiate experience was shared with Woodall. They came to Cal in the same recruiting class in 1988. They were paired randomly to be roommates as freshmen, and they clicked so well they remained roommates all five years in college. They even joined a fraternity together at Cal.
"He was basically a brother to me," Thompson said. "He was a great friend, somebody you could always count on. Our friendship even brought our families together, even still today. When he was missing, you knew what the answer was, but there's that small shred of hope that maybe he'll be the guy they find trapped somewhere. It took so long to get that final confirmation."
Every year on Sept. 11, Ralston and the rest of their close friends have a tradition of getting together to share an outing in honor of Woodall.
As much as he loved football, Woodall also greatly excelled on the Cal baseball team as the closer during his junior and senior campaigns. He was part of the 1992 squad that reached the College World Series, the last appearance by Cal until the Bears advanced to Omaha in 2011. Following graduation in 1993, Woodall was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, and he played two seasons in the Cubs' minor league system.
Longtime Cal baseball coach Bob Milano remembers Woodall showing up for his junior season in great shape. His fastball was faster and his agility off the mound had greatly improved.
"He had a desire to perform well in both sports," Milano said. "He worked so hard. He knew what he wanted to do and he went out and did it. He played the game (baseball) better than a lot of guys who played it year round."
Milano saw Woodall as a man who was very modest and reserved, yet he fit in with everybody. He said many people misunderstood the way he walked to the mound as cocky, but Woodall was the furthest thing from cocky. He was just confident.
Much like Ortega, Milano greatly misses his former closer. When Milano received a phone call from a friend of the Woodall family with the terrible news, he almost fell to a knee.
"I wish I could see him smile again," Milano said. "He had the kind of smile that made you feel warm and comfortable."
Woodall may be gone, but his legacy will live on. He and his wife, Tracy, have a daughter, Pierce Ashley, who was born on April 22, 2002.
Americans nationwide will never forget 9/11. The Cal family will never forget Brent Woodall.
Athletic competition evokes words like "heroic" and "tragic." But the true meanings of these labels are quickly clarified when real tragedy strikes and true heroes emerge.
Mark Bingham emerged as a national hero following his tragic death on Sept. 11, 2001, with the crash of United Airlines flight 93 outside of Shanksville, Pa.
After graduating in 1993 from the University of California, where he earned a varsity letter as a member of the 1991 championship Golden Bear rugby team and a degree in social sciences with an emphasis in international relations, Bingham had gone on to become the chief executive officer of the Bingham Group, a public relations firm serving the high-tech industry. In 2001, he was dividing his time between San Francisco and New York City, where his company had opened an East Coast office.
Bingham barely made his flight to San Francisco from Newark International Airport on the morning of Sept. 11. The plane stayed on course until it reached Cleveland, when radar data shows it veered to the southeast, toward Washington, D.C.
Bingham called his mother, Alice Hoagland, from the plane to tell her that four hijackers had seized control of Flight 93. Alice, herself a flight attendant, quickly learned that three other planes had been hijacked and used as weapons to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She called Bingham back. Reaching his voicemail, Hoagland urged her son to take action against the hijackers.
Bingham never heard that message because, it appears, he had already joined several passengers to thwart their captors' plans.
While the events of the final minutes on board Flight 93 will never fully be known, voicemails, cockpit recordings and witnesses from the ground make it clear that as the plane sped at low altitude toward the nation's capital, passengers fought their way into the cockpit to change their fate.
As more and more details became known about the victims, Bingham's experience as a rugby player was identified as a potential factor in his heroism.
Ten years before his death, Bingham had been a member of Cal's national collegiate rugby champions. He was a reserve flanker on that talented 1991 team.
"Mark was an athletic young man, a really good teammate and part of a team that worked as hard as any I've ever coached," said head coach Jack Clark.
Sports Illustrated published an article by Mike Silver in its May 6, 2002, issue in which Hoagland said, "I'm really grateful to Jack Clark for at least attempting to whip my son into shape. Playing rugby at Cal was a rich and rewarding experience for Mark, and it definitely helped shape the values he carried into adulthood."
In a phone call days before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Hoagland reiterated: "Mark loved Cal. `Go Bears' was his mantra. His fraternity brothers at Cal's Chi Psi lodge became his lifelong friends. Mark wore the blue and gold rugby jersey proudly and played his heart out for his teammates on the rugby pitch and his remarkable coach."
Hoagland added that she will "always be grateful to Cal's fine faculty and staff, and extraordinary athletic programs, especially rugby, for contributing so generously to my son's life."
Bingham, who also served as the president of his fraternity, continued to wear his Cal hat and jersey after graduation, and he continued playing rugby with various clubs, too, including the San Francisco Fog, a gay rugby team that was founded a year before his death.
With little time to gather and process the facts, Bingham and his fellow passengers had made a heroic decision, took heroic action and died as heroes on a day in which thousands of Americans were killed. On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we honor the memories of those we lost, their families and friends, and all of us whose lives were forever changed by this tragedy.
At a memorial service in Berkeley 11 days after the attacks, in reference to the possibility that the hijackers intended for Flight 93 to strike the U.S. Capitol, Senator John McCain said, "I may very well owe my life to Mark."
Senator McCain went on to say: "I never knew Mark Bingham. But I wish I had. I know he was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American and an extraordinary human being. He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before Sept. 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him for it more profusely than time and circumstances allowed. But I know it now. And I thank him with the only means I possess, by being as good an American as he was."