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What Texas Longhorns QB Shane Buechele learned from the loss of his best friend

“I think it should go through everybody’s head.”

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele is entering his sophomore season with the ‘Horns football team, but already has experienced a tragedy many can’t imagine.

Connor Gage, Buechele’s childhood best friend, passed away at the age of 15 in Possum Kingdom Lake in August 2012. In a Dallas Morning News story, Buechele talks about what he’s learned from the incredible loss.

The pair met in kindergarten and became close friends throughout elementary school, even performing together during a talent show in sixth grade. And though they attended separate middle schools and played separate sports (Gage track and cross country, Buechele football and basketball), the two always stayed in touch.

Look close and you’ll see a tribute to Gage each time Buechele appears in a game. He’s won a white rubber bracelet on his left wrist with the inscription “Connor Gage” and “4.18.97-8.31.12” since his days at Arlington Lamar.

Since his death, Gage’s parents have established the LV Project, dedicated to both drowning prevention awareness and living life to the fullest extent possible. The group has led projects all over the world and at home in Texas.

Its largest fundraiser is the Honor Connor 5K and Smile Mile, which will be held Saturday in North Richland Hills. Of course, Buechele will be on hand.

The timing of the event in late May is not a coincidence:

School is nearly out. Swimming and boating season soon will commence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,600 people in the United States die annually from drowning.

In Texas last year, just among children 17 and under, there were 107 drownings, about 40 of which occurred in open water. It's estimated that for each drowning there are six or seven near-drownings, many of which result in life-altering impairments such as brain damage.

The day Gage died was supposed to be a day of celebration, a birthday party at the lake. Instead, it quickly turned tragic. Statistics show that eight of 10 drownings occur near the shoreline, as Gage and his friends were, nine of 10 victims are male, and the chance of drowning in open water triples beginning at age 15.

Like everyone else, Buechele was in shock. He says it was unreal at first, and didn’t really hit him for a few days.

Though he’s still just 19, Buechele understands he’s in a leadership position and can make a difference.

He intends to set a good example.

“Obviously you want to have fun with your friends around a lake, and you don't want to think about the worst," he says. "But just jumping off a dock or being on a boat, it definitely goes through my head.

"I think it should go through everybody's head."