remembering D.J. Hayden, Zach McMillian, and Ralph Oragwu
3 former UH football players killed in car crash remembered for defying odds and serving others
Three of the victims were identified as former University of Houston football players: D.J. Hayden, Zach McMillian, and Ralph Oragwu. Houston police said they were inside an SUV that was hit by a speeding driver who ran a red light at about 2 am. Two others were killed, and two more are still in the hospital.
People who knew Hayden, McMillian, and Oragwu said they remained close after graduating from the University of Houston and often hung out together. They all grew up in Fort Bend County, where other communities are mourning the tragedy.
Our entire community is heartbroken over the tragic passing of former Football student-athletes D.J. Hayden, Zachary McMillian and Ralph Oragwu earlier today, and our thoughts and prayers remain with Jeffery Lewis in his recovery ahead.
Statement: https://t.co/Fy83ref2Uw pic.twitter.com/vIkEamxJfB
— Houston Football (@UHCougarFB) November 11, 2023
Hayden was a product of Elkins High School in Missouri City, McMillian graduated from Dulles High School in Sugar Land, and Oragwu was an alumnus of Marshall High School in Missouri City.
Right before UH's homecoming game against the University of Cincinnati on Saturday evening, a moment of silence was held in remembrance of the three alumni as their photos were displayed on the video boards.
Prior to kickoff, the school's athletics department released a statement confirming the deaths of the former players and stating that the community was heartbroken.
"We extended our deepest condolences to their families, friends, and loved ones, as we collectively mourn the loss of three individuals who made an indelible impact on each life they touched," the department said in part of the statement. The full statement fan be found here.
Hayden survived a tear in his heart during a UH practice back in 2012 and went on to be selected by the then-Oakland Raiders as the 12th overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
D.J. Hayden was selected No. 12 overall by the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
His last NFL game was in 2021. But he made his way back to the sideline, spending this season working as a volunteer defensive backs coach at Second Baptist School. Athletic Director Mike Walker told ABC13's Adam Winkler that Hayden wanted to give back and make an impact on young student-athletes.
While their combined talent provided Houston football with some of its most unforgettable moments, their unique legacies will perhaps be best remembered for the way they loved their teammates, supported their communities, and defied the odds.
"D.J. overcame a lot. So to hear this news, it was like, 'Wow.' He was a funny guy and always told jokes. Same with Zach McMillian. Ralph was a little, but big brother. Very much like a teddy bear. It was always great energy from the three of them," Demetrius Woods, a former teammate, said.
"If you want your son to be like anybody, it was Zack McMillian, D.J. Hayden, and Ralph Oragwu. Not only because they were great teammates, but they came back and were leaders within the alumni association. We need more people like that. To see young people taken from this world at an early age, it just breaks our heart," Ted Pardee, University of Houston football color analyst, said.
All three players spent multiple seasons with the Coogs football program between 2009 and 2013, as well as Jeffrey Lewis, who was also injured in Saturday's crash.
This article by Rosie Nguyen and Adam Winkler originally ran on our news partner ABC13.