ST. LOUIS Friends and family recalled 24-year-old Damien Nash as a man who died much too young, but also a man who died as he lived: competing in sports and helping his community."I don't understand why he's gone," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Monday during a eulogy. "We never had a guy play for one year, as Damien did, and influence so many people."More than 1,000 people gathered to pay respects to the former Denver Broncos running back. Nash died in his suburban St. Louis home Saturday after playing in a charitable basketball tournament that raised money for heart transplant research."There's no denying the love he put out to people, especially kids," Nash's cousin Corey Perdue said Monday before Nash's funeral service in St. Louis. "He was a real inspiration."
Dozens of Nash's former teammates and coaches attended the three-hour service, from his fellow Denver Broncos to his middle school football coach. Many spoke during the funeral, recalling a young man who smiled often, played hard and loved his family.Although Nash often lived away from home, he always kept pictures of his wife, Judy, and his 7-month-old daughter, Phaith, taped to his locker, Shanahan said.The capacity crowd at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis represented a cross section of Nash's life.Childhood friends and family members knew Nash from his working-class boyhood home. They stood next to NFL stars in dapper suits and black sunglasses who met Nash only recently as he reached the highest levels of the game he loved to play.
Whether they knew him for a lifetime or one season's worth of games and practice, everyone recalled the same outsized personality. Several said they would never forget Nash's smile."The young man would look back at me with the biggest smile," said Broncos linebacker Al Wilson, drawing a knowing laugh from the crowd.Coaches and players from Nash's teen years said his athletic ability shone through from the start. Nash attended Riverview Gardens High School and graduated from East St. Louis (Ill.) High School in 2001.After playing for the University of Missouri Tigers, Nash was a fifth-round draft choice by Tennessee in 2005.
He played in three games for the Titans. The Broncos signed him as a free agent last season. He played in three games, rushing for 66 yards on 18 carries. In his two-year career, he had 24 carries for 98 yards and seven receptions for 55 yards.The Broncos said Monday the Damien Nash Trust Fund had been set up through the NFL Players Association to help with future school and health care expenses for his daughter.Shortly before Nash died, he played in the charity game he arranged at his high school to benefit The Darris Nash Find a Heart Foundation. The charity is named after his 25-year-old brother who had a heart transplant last year.The St. Louis medical examiner's office said Nash's cause of death has not yet been determined, and the autopsy results might not be available for weeks.