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Boston University’s center for study of the disease reported in December that 34 former pro football players and nine who played only college football suffered from CTE.

The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions. The NCAA also is being sued over its handling of head injuries.

Finnerty led Grand Valley, a Division II school, to more than 50 victories and three national titles, the last in 2006. He briefly was a member of the Baltimore Ravens and later the Denver Broncos but never took a snap in a regular season game.

“You couldn’t stop that kid from playing football,” said Scott Boyd, a family friend who was on the search party that found the body. He said Finnerty played to his fullest “and probably took some hits he shouldn’t have.”

Finnerty’s father, who coached football for 35 years, said it is important to keep researching CTE and possible links to injuries not only in football, hockey, soccer and other sports. But he said life lessons and benefits of playing football are “substantial” and praised Grand Valley’s response to the tragedy.

Boyd said a perfect storm of factors seemingly conspired against Finnerty, who he described as a “clean-living kid” and devout Catholic. The Brighton native lived in Howell and sold medical devices for a living.

“He was always upbeat and positive and smiling and had a warm handshake and hug for you,” Boyd said.

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Associated Press writer David Goodman in Detroit contributed to this report.