Junior Seau friend: 'If something's bothering him, you won't know'
Bystanders and television news crews huddled around yellow police tape Wednesday at Junior Seau's Oceanside home, a two-story condo with a balcony facing the beach, where he was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Family members gathered in the garage, weeping, as police investigators went about their work.
Brian Ballis, 50, of Oceanside, a house painter who lives in the neighborhood, said he would often see Seau, 43, on the balcony, or in the ocean paddleboarding or surfing. Two days ago, Ballis saw him playing the ukulele on his balcony, describing the tune as "Hawaiian-style music."
“He was smiling and happy,” Ballis said, "and looking at the sky and looking at the waves."
Seau was a familiar presence in the Oceanside neighbor and could be seen running up and down the oceanfront street with his dog.
“He seemed happy every time I saw him," Ballis said, saying the last time he spotted the former football star was Monday afternoon.
"He was a good guy, always trying to win," Hardyway said. Over the years, Hardyway and Seau became more distant, but whenever Seau was in town, they would try to catch up and talk about their children and sports.
“Junior’s always been in good spirits," he said. "If something is bothering him, you won't know."
He said that even with Seau's success, he always remained approachable.
“You could walk up to him, no problem, autographs, the whole nine [yards]."
He called Junior "tough," saying he had a "strong poker face." Over the years, football seemed to take him away from his family but "when he came home, he was always the same.”
Hardyway said he will cherish his memories of competing with Seau, such as going to regionals.
“Even though he's gone, I still have those memories,” he said.
Hardyway's nickname for Seau was Junebug. With tears in his eyes, he said the news of the suicide was “unfathomable.”
“He worked hard to achieve what he accomplished,” he said. “Oceanside just lost a real great talent.”
In other reaction, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said in a statement released on a college website: "We are tremendously saddened to hear this news and our hearts go out to his family and children. Junior Seau was one of the greatest legends in USC football history. He will always be remembered by USC as the original No. 55."
USC football Coach Lane Kiffin also released a statement: "This is a very sad day. The USC football program and the entire Trojan Family extends our condolences to Junior's family. He was one of the greatest Trojans of all-time."
-- Nicole Santa Cruz in Oceanside
Photo: Junior Seau in 2002. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images