On the current roster of the San Francisco 49ers stand 90 players. Another 10 are on various injured lists.
At the team’s Santa Clara practice facility, every player has a locker.
Among the pads, helmets and equipment — even a mini basketball hoop — one locker stands out at the end of the room.
It’s where one 49er has a permanent space. He’s not a coach, an All-Pro, or Hall of Famer.
He’s never appeared in a regular season game. Yet there’s a small photograph of him displayed on a shelf inside.
The locker belongs to offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, who died at 23 years old eight years ago today, Aug. 20, 2005. Herrion passed away after suffering a heart attack in the visiting locker room at then-Invesco Field in Denver just minutes after a 26-21 preseason loss to the Broncos.
In what would be his last action on the football field, Herrion helped spurn a 23-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cody Pickett that concluded a 16 play, 91-yard scoring drive.
The 49ers lost, but Herrion was never one to look down on the gridiron.
It was during the Lord’s Prayer led by head coach Mike Nolan that Herrion suddenly collapsed while taking a knee.
The team, players and coaches helped support his family and honored him by wearing black football decals on their helmets and establishing an award in his name.
According to the 49ers website, the Thomas Herrion Award is presented annually to a rookie or first-year player:
“Like Thomas who has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality.”
Current 49ers Tarell Brown, Anthony Dixon, Will Tukuafu, Kyle Williams, and Michael Wilhoite have been recipients of the prestigious award.
Herrion was college teammate of Alex Smith at Utah, and earned a spot on the Cowboys practice squad in 2004. He later helped the Hamburg Sea Devils to a 5-5 record during their 2005 inaugural season in NFL Europe before coming to 49ers training camp.
The 6-3, 310-pounder was known for being faithful, musical, and exemplifying sportsmanship as he was for wearing a constant smile.
Frank Gore, Adam Snyder, Andy Lee, and Brian Jennings are the remaining players who were on the roster with Herrion, though all who wear the red and gold are his teammates.
Poignantly, Herrion’s locker is as he left it eight years ago. His shoes and some personal effects are there along with the photo of No. 72, a jersey that hasn’t been issued since. A plexiglass covering assures his locker will remain untouched.
Thomas Herrion is forever a part of the 49ers. Even though his number isn’t seen on the field, just like his locker, he’s there.