Ryan LoProto ’02, a former Yale football star who was studying law in Lyon, France, drowned July 10 after falling off a bridge in Pamplona, Spain. He was 24.
LoProto, a Marrero, La. native who was enrolled in law school at Louisiana State University, had gone to Pamplona with friends to see the running of the bulls last weekend, his father Mike said. Ryan left his party with a 34-year-old Spanish woman to buy beer at approximately 7 p.m. July 9, but did not return. Their bodies were discovered the next morning at the base of a 120-foot ridge above the Arga River, LoProto’s father said.
Mike LoProto said the Spanish authorities have ruled out malicious intent as a factor in the two deaths, but have offered few details regarding the death of his only son.
“He was every father’s dream,” LoProto’s father said. “There are always superlatives thrown about when someone passes away, but in Ryan’s case it was well-deserved.”
As a student, a Zeta Psi fraternity brother and an All Ivy League safety who made the final interception for Yale’s 1999 championship team, LoProto was “a force of nature,” friends and teammates said.
“Ryan was a guy who lived life with his whole heart,” Ben Barnett ’02 said at a gathering held in memory of LoProto at the Yale Club of New York City Friday. “Ryan was nothing short of inspirational, whether it was game day or just a Tuesday afternoon.”
Former football captain Tim Penna ’02 said LoProto’s passion for football was unmatched on the team, but his passion was equally strong in every arena — from daily Spanish classes to the weekly wiffle ball games he used to play with school-age New Haven children as a member of the Christian fellowship group Athletes in Action.
Barnett, a quarterback who said he spent part of every day at Yale with LoProto, added that the loss of LoProto seemed like part of a nightmare that began with the death of fellow teammate James Keppel ’02, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2003. Keppel, also a member of Zeta Psi, was one of LoProto’s closest friends, and wore number 30 next to LoProto’s number 31, Barnett said.
Coach Jack Siedlecki said the losses of LoProto and Keppel have been the most devastating shocks of his eight-year Yale career.
“Obviously, they all affect you, but they were two of the best players I’ve had since I got here,” Siedlecki said. “It’s just a very difficult thing to deal with when young people die.”
Siedlecki said he admired the intensity and “unlimited potential” of LoProto, who set a Yale record with two interceptions in one game during a contest against Columbia University in 2000. Siedlecki’s sentiments were echoed by Assistant Athletics Director Steve Conn and by Don Scharf ’55, an athletics development officer and a member of the Football Association.
“I knew Ryan all four years he was here,” Scharf said. “He was a great, hard-working individual, very competitive, very popular with his teammates, always willing to help. He was always working with other defensive backs to improve everyone involved.”
Scharf said the rest of the LoProto family was almost as central a team presence as the safety himself. Mike LoProto, a pilot for Southwest Airlines, tailored his flight schedule to that of the team, bringing pot roasts and jumbalaya with him to all but two games during his son’s four years at Yale.
“They’re a great family,” Scharf said, “They were always there for anybody.”
Mike LoProto said he will travel to Spain Monday with U.S. State Department personnel to speak with local police and to claim his son’s body. Though Pamplona officials had initially refused to answer his questions, he said a personal intercession by New York Gov. George Pataki ’67 had prevailed upon the Spanish authorities.
The LoProto family has planned a wake at the school LoProto attended, Jesuit High School in New Orleans, next Sunday with a funeral to follow, Mike LoProto said. With two daughters younger than Ryan, he said responsibilities have kept him moving forward, but he thinks of his son constantly.
“He was the most compulsive, most focused person I’ve ever met, but his buddies were the most important thing to him,” Mike LoProto said. “I have no doubt in my mind that, when he got up to heaven, there was Jimmy Keppel waiting for him with his jersey saying, ‘Let’s go. We’ve got a game.'”