The first person Northern Michigan offensive lineman Kyle Augustine texted when he returned to Marquette after winter break was his close friend and teammate Anthony Herbert.
It wasn’t uncommon for the two to hang out away from the team. Such as Sunday, when they went to Wal-Mart to buy school supplies for the semester. Or later that night, when they stayed up late in the dorms because neither had classes Monday morning.
The two probably would have done more of the same Tuesday night. But after working out Tuesday morning, Herbert returned to his dorm and started watching a movie, according to a statement released by his mother, Lori.
His roommate and EMS workers attempted to revive the 20-year-old sophomore, but the family says the likely cause of death was an enlarged heart — something they didn’t know the 6-foot-4, 315-pound lineman had.
“It’s very devastating,” Augustine said. “He is a pretty big-time leader for us. He was very close to everyone. He always had a smile on his face and knew when to say the right things at the right time to get everyone going. He was that guy that everyone looked up to as a leader on the offensive line. He was just meant to be a leader in this world.”
Herbert had been a leader almost his whole career. After his junior year of high school at Lapeer West, his school consolidated with Lapeer East, meaning that the schools would share a football team for his senior season.
Without being asked to, Herbert stepped up and helped bridge the gap between the two programs to ensure unity. He led winter workouts and lifting sessions. Once a week, he even took team members to Pueblo Viejo, a Mexican restaurant in Lapeer, for Taco Tuesdays, at which the linemen enjoyed $1 tacos.
“It’s unusual, when two schools come together, that the merger is so complete,” Lapeer coach Mike Smith said. “But that’s just the kind of figure he was, and he was really key in making that happen.”
During Herbert’s senior season, the Lightning went 10-1 and outscored opponents, 470-91. They won all nine of their regular-season games.
Herbert’s personality had much to do with Lapeer’s success, his coach said.
“He just always treated people right and always had a smile on his face,” Smith said. “He was a tough, intimidating character on the field but really a teddy bear off of the field. He was a nice kid.”
After the season, Herbert, an all-stater, elected to play at NMU because he enjoyed the outdoorsy atmosphere in Marquette, especially the fishing in the Upper Peninsula. He redshirted his freshman year but became a starter at left guard this past season and played in all 11 games of the Wildcats’ 3-8 season. He earned All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference academic honors afterward.
Although he was only in his second season in college, linemen such as Augustine looked up to Herbert as a mentor.
“He helped me out with a lot of things, especially with footwork, and he helped me out, punchingwise,” Augustine said. “He was always a great guy to go up to and ask questions. Basically, I could learn anything from him. When I came up here, he was basically a big brother to me.”
Herbert worked out at Lapeer during winter break last month and assisted some of the Lightning players in the weight room.
“He made some connections with our newcomers and younger guys,” Smith said. “He was being a positive role model to the other high school kids, and that’s just who he was.
“He had to do his running to stay in shape, so he encouraged another guy on our team to go with him and do that. He took him under his wing, and that’s what big guys like our guy needed. They need a buddy to get them into it, and that was him.
“He was just a great teammate and, for his parents, my goodness, he was a terrific son and brother to his sister. Anywhere in Lapeer you’d go, if you mention his name, it creates a smile on their face because that’s how positive he was. … This one is going to be a tough one.”
NMU fired coach Chris Ostrowsky after the season and hired former Ferris State defensive coordinator Kyle Nystrom to replace him. Once again, Herbert was expected to help bring people together.
“We’ve looked at this week as, ‘What would Herbie do?'” Augustine said. “Would he want us to sit back and relax or would he want us to continue to work? So we got up (Wednesday morning) and went to the weight room for him and were running for him.
“This is a first for me. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before, and it’s definitely crazy, for sure. We’re dedicating everything we do to him and saying, ‘What would Herbie do?’ now.”