Saskatchewan

Man who died in Wascana Lake remembered for his 'contagious smile and love for people'

'He was the nicest guy ever,' Andy Hanlen said of his friend and football teammate, Samwel Uko. Uko died on Thursday in Regina.

University football player Samwel Uko, 20, had dreams of playing in the NFL

Friends and teammates are remembering Samwel Uko, 20, for his big smile, kind heart and love of football. (Remembering Samwel Uko/Facebook)

Andy Hanlen will never forget the first time he met Samwel Uko. They were on opposite sides of the football field.

"It was frustrating. [Uko] was slippery and so hard to catch," Hanlen remembered thinking when he was 13 years old. "He was a big problem to play against, that's for sure."

Months later, the then-teens turned from rivals to teammates when they joined the same all-star squad in their home province of British Columbia.

"It was kind of a star-struck moment," Hanlen said. "We had been playing against each other the whole season and [Uko] was by far the best player in the league, scoring an average of at least three or four touchdowns a game."

Uko's drive for the sport followed him into his post-secondary education. He joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in 2018-19, before heading home to play for the Langley Rams with Hanlen last year.

I had no idea what he was going through and I wish I did.- Andy Hanlen, friend and teammate

CBC News has confirmed with Uko's family that the 20-year-old's body was found in Wascana Lake last Thursday evening. The Huskies sent out a news release last week with condolences to Uko's family, friends and teammates.

Having just reconnected with Uko on the field in their adult lives, Hanlen said he was "completely shocked," especially since he had interacted with Uko on Snapchat the day he died.

"He was the nicest guy ever; always asking how you were, asking you what you'd been up to — stuff like that. He was always checking in, always smiling and joking," Hanlen explained. "I never heard him say anything negative."

Samwel Uko started his post-secondary football career playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in 2018-19, before heading back home to British Columbia to play for the Langley Rams. (Remembering Samwel Uko/Facebook)

He said Uko still had his childhood dreams of getting into the NFL and making a name for himself in football. Their coach on the Langley Rams has joked that Uko wanted to be like NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, Hanlen recalled.

"It definitely looked like it could be in his foreseeable future, the way he was playing," Hanlen said.  

'You'll never go wrong checking on your happy friends'

Regina police said officers found clothing and a cell phone on the shoreline, where witnesses reported seeing Uko enter the water. 

"I had no idea what he was going through and I wish I did," Hanlen said. "You'll never go wrong checking on your happy friends."

A makeshift memorial has been set up on a shoreline of Regina’s Wascana Lake, where witnesses say Samwel Uko entered the water the day he died. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Looking back on their friendship, Hanlen said Uko taught him lessons off the football field that he'll never forget.

"Spread love and no negative thoughts," Hanlen said. "You've just got to be as nice as you can to people — no matter what you're going through — because you don't know what they're going through. That's the kind of thing that he portrayed."

GoFundMe page set up for Uko's family

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for Uko's funeral arrangements.

"Samwel has touched so many lives," the fundraiser description reads. "His biggest gift that he shared with us all was his contagious smile and love for people."

As of Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe has raised $10,000.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said Uko died on Friday. In fact, it was Thursday.
    May 27, 2020 10:54 AM CT

About the Author

Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She’s been sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online since 2016, initially getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her: jessie.anton@cbc.ca.

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