AMHERST, Mass. -- Gary Menin's last-minute decision to take part in the halftime ceremonies at UMass' annual spring game Saturday wasn't by design.
Menin, a 30-year-old attorney, held back tears as he explained the shock of hearing the news Friday morning of the death of his former roommate of two years in Somerville. He collapsed to his knees and broke down in his Milton home, in shock and disbelief.
Sean Collier, a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer, was slain in the line of duty during the nearly 20-hour manhunt for two suspects connected to Monday's Boston Marathon bombings.
"I didn't know him in the capacity of a cop. I knew him grilling in the backyard. I knew him playing Frisbee in the park by Tufts," Menin began, eyes welling up. "He's a real person, and now a lot of people aren't going to get to know him. They'll read about him, but you don't get to hear his voice, or play 'Rock Band' with him, you know, stuff you do with roommates."
Saturday afternoon at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, those who were unable to finish Monday's marathon were invited to run a ceremonious "finish" at halftime of the annual intrasquad scrimmage that concludes spring practices. Menin was among the six taking up the offer, running a lap around the perimeter of the gridiron and finishing with a scamper across the 50-yard line, with football players forming a gauntlet along the last 50.
Menin, a UMass alum, was one-tenth of a mile from the finish line when the explosions went off, and found himself circumnavigating around the block another mile to find his family, who were waiting at the finish line at the time.
He may not find closure over losing his former roommate to such senseless violence.
"If this is how I feel, I can't imagine what his family is going through," Menin said.
But he felt honored to be able to partake in today's ceremonious run.
"Unfortunately I found out very last minute I wanted to do this for Sean," he said. "It's nice to have everyone here. Everyone's been so great in Boston, but in Massachusetts and all around the world as well."
Shrewsbury resident Lisa Lunt, 30, was stopped a few miles back from the finish line when the explosion went off, and Saturday wielded an American flag during the lap -- just as she did for the entire race on Monday, as a tribute to servicemen deployed overseas.
"I'm a UMass alum, and today I really wanted to be a part of it," Lunt said. "If people can die overseas for our country, I can carry a flag for 26 miles. It's a small price to pay."
Players also paid tribute to Collier and the three victims who lost their lives in Monday's bombing by placing the full names of each on their nameplates on the backs of their jerseys. Defensive back Randall Jette wore the nameplate of Collier; he was joined by linebacker Stanley Andre (Martin Richard), wide receiver Klysmann Afonso (Krystle Campbell), tight end Brandon Howard (Lu Lingzi), and tight end Rob Blanchflower, who wore a "#BostonStrong" nameplate.
"I know how it is growing up in Dorchester," says Andre, who hails from the same part of Boston as Richard, the 8-year-old who lost his life in Monday's bombing. "Dorchester is a tough neighborhood. Not to see him grow, it's tough to experience and witness. It's really an unfortunate tragedy."
Afonso, a midyear walk-on from Medford, grew up on the city's Lawrence Street, a short distance from the 29-year-old Campbell's Park Street residence. And while he didn't know Campbell or her family personally, he knew folks that were close to her.
"I know some of my friends who have worked with her family and said she was just a joy to be around," he said. "I was so proud to have her name even on my nameplate. That was just a huge honor for me to represent Medford, her and the bombing victims."
UMass head coach Charley Molnar called Saturday's event "really high" on the list of most memorable moments of his decades-long coaching career.
"This is was much bigger than I ever thought it would be," he said.
He also said he plans on trying to run for next year's race.
"After the events on Monday, I was absolutely determined that I want to run Boston in 2014," he said. "I'm going to enter my first marathon in Long Branch, N.J., in a few weeks, and just see where I'm at, and maybe get a couple more under my belt to see if I can qualify."