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Preliminary autopsy results inconclusive for former NFL quarterback

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Denver Broncos backup quarterback Cullen Finnerty stretched at the team's headquarters in Denver on May 29, 2008. Authorities said Finnerty, who went missing over the weekend, was found dead Tuesday in Michigan.

DETROIT » A cause of death was not determined today after an autopsy on the body of a Michigan man who played Division II football and was one of the most successful quarterbacks in college history.

There was no obvious sign of heart trauma on Cullen Finnerty, Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts said.

Finnerty’s body was discovered Tuesday in woods in western Michigan, 65 miles north of Grand Rapids, following a search by dozens of people, including former teammates, coaches and current players at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.

The 30-year-old was with his relatives on a holiday weekend at a cottage in Lake County’s Webber Township. He disappeared Sunday while fishing a river separately from other relatives.

The autopsy "ruled out anything real obvious," Hilts said in a phone interview. "There was nothing that stood out as to the cause of death. … We’re glad there is no foul play found at this time."

He said more results could be available this week after an examination of the brain and other tests.

"We can’t move forward without that information," the sheriff said.

Hilts said Finnerty had called his wife Sunday and expressed concern about being out on the river. Dan Brink told MLive.com that his son-in-law "got bewildered."

"He was just uncomfortable about his surroundings at the time," Hilts said. "He said he was getting off the river, and things went downhill from there."

A small boat was found but no other trace of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound ex-athlete. Finnerty’s body later was discovered within a mile of where he disappeared.

Jeff Chaney, a Grand Valley football center in the 1980s, drove from Grand Rapids to join the search Tuesday. Nagged by rain, mud and mosquitoes, he hiked through woods and water with Finnerty’s father, Tim.

They looked in cottage windows and opened shed doors, thinking Finnerty may have twisted an ankle and sought shelter.

"People were yelling, ‘Quarterback, where are you?’ … His dad was determined. He said to me once, ‘I want you to find him and pull him out.’ We all had hope, even though there was a lot of skepticism," Chaney said.

Finnerty had led Grand Valley to more than 50 victories and three national titles, the last in 2006.

The searchers included current Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell, who was a defensive coach when Finnerty played, as well as former Lakers coach Chuck Martin, now offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

Mitchell said he was "crushed" by Finnerty’s death, especially considering the family he left behind, a wife and two young children.

"It was a pretty quiet bus ride home," he said.

Finnerty, a star at Brighton High School, accepted an offer to play at the University of Toledo but transferred to Grand Valley after the 2001 season. He briefly was a member of the Baltimore Ravens and later the Denver Broncos but never got a snap.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was Grand Valley’s coach during the 2003 national championship season.

"It’s very chilling," Kelly said Tuesday, before Finnerty’s body was found. "He led me to a national championship as a true freshman. When I left, coach Martin took over and won two more national championships. My heart goes out to the family and to his beautiful wife."

AP reporters Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and David N. Goodman and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this story.

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