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Former College QB Cullen Finnerty Found Dead In Michigan Woods After Three-Day Search: Police

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Cullen Finnerty holds up the championship trophy with Grand Valley State teammates after beating Northwest Missouri State 17-14 in the Division II championship football game in Florence, Ala. on Dec. 16, 2006.
Cullen Finnerty holds up the championship trophy with Grand Valley State teammates after beating Northwest Missouri State 17-14 in the Division II championship football game in Florence, Ala. on Dec. 16, 2006.

DETROIT -- A three-day search for one of the winningest college quarterbacks ever ended in a remote wooded area in Michigan, where authorities found his body and were left with a mystery of how he died.

Authorities were hoping autopsy results expected to be released Wednesday afternoon would provide some much-needed answers regarding the untimely passing of Cullen Finnerty.

The former Grand Valley State University quarterback went missing Sunday while fishing near his family's cottage. Finnerty's body was found in Webber Township, about a mile from where he disappeared, but authorities said no foul play was suspected.

Finnerty, 30, led Grand Valley State University to three Division II national titles and more than 50 wins during his four years as a starter in Allendale, Mich., last decade. His body was found about 8 p.m. Tuesday in woods within a mile of where he disappeared, said Lake County Undersheriff Dennis Robinson.

Robinson said the body was not in the water and was found in a wooded area in near the family's cottage.

The search drew scores of police and volunteers, including staff and players from Grand Valley State.

Finnerty last spoke to a family member Sunday night in a phone call in which he said "he was nervous about something," Sheriff Robert Hilts said. Based on that call, the family suspected "he might be having some kind of a mental episode - that he was either afraid or something and ran off into the woods," Hilts said.

The sheriff said authorities had been tracking Finnerty's cellphone "until it went dead." The terrain made the search for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound ex-athlete difficult, Hilts said.

"This is the last river that I'd pick to fish," he said, citing logjams and dense brush. "And it's a very tough river to navigate."

Searchers from the sheriff's office, state police and area fire departments fanned out Tuesday across a square-mile area of Webber Township, which is about 65 miles north of Grand Rapids.

In addition, dozens of current and former Grand Valley State players, coaches and staff hopped on a bus and headed north to Lake County to lend a hand in the search effort.

Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell, who was a defensive assistant when Finnerty led the Lakers to national titles in 2005 and 2006, as well as former Grand Valley coach and current Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin were among those helping out.

Mitchell said Wednesday that he was "crushed" by Finnerty's death, especially considering the family he left behind.

"It was a pretty quiet bus ride home," the coach said.

Finnerty, who starred at Brighton High School, originally accepted an offer to play at the University of Toledo but transferred to Grand Valley after redshirting in 2001.

The dual-threat QB played for Grand Valley teams that won Division II titles in 2003, 2005 and 2006. He briefly was a member of the Baltimore Ravens and later the Denver Broncos.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was Grand Valley's coach during the 2003 national championship season.

"It's very chilling," Kelly said Tuesday, before Finnerty's body was found. "He led me to a national championship as a true freshman. When I left, coach Martin took over and won two more national championships. My heart goes out to the family and to his beautiful wife."

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AP reporter Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed to this story.

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Mike Householder can be reached at mhouseholder(at)ap.org and http://twitter.com/mikehouseholder

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