Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs said Petrus died of heat stroke Thursday night at a North Little Rock hospital after working outside that day at his family's shop near his hometown of Carlisle, which is about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Little Rock.
Like much of the country, Arkansas is in the grips of an intense heat wave. The heat index - the temperature it felt like - in the area where Petrus was working on Thursday was higher than 100 degrees (38 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.
Petrus played tight end in high school before switching to fullback and then offensive guard for the Razorbacks. Houston Nutt, who coached Arkansas for 10 seasons, said Petrus took those changes in stride.
"He had this attitude of a little boy waking up for Christmas every day, every time he came to the field," Nutt told Little Rock TV station KARK on Friday.
During his college career, Petrus played alongside Razorback greats Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and later earned all-Southeastern Conference honors.
McFadden told KARK that he was stunned by Petrus' death.
"He was a joy to be around. He'd put a smile on anybody's face, brighten up any room that he walks into," McFadden said.
Petrus was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round in 2010 and got into 11 regular-season games his rookie year, with no starts. In his second season, Petrus played in six regular-season games, starting three of them, as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. He played six games for the Giants the following season before being released. He was picked up by New England and played two games for the Patriots before being released. Tennessee then signed him and he played two games for the Titans before the team released him the following March.
"We are saddened to hear of Mitch's passing," the Giants said in a statement. "Our thoughts go out to Mitch's family and friends."
His college program also tweeted its condolences: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mitch Petrus. He was an outstanding competitor, incredible teammate and a true Hog. He will be greatly missed by many. Rest easy Mitch."
After retiring from the NFL in 2013, Petrus returned to Arkansas, where he was well-known and often appeared as a studio analyst and sidelines reporter during televised high school football games, sometimes wearing goofy wigs or costumes on camera. He also had an interest in politics, serving as Republican state Sen. Dismang's chief of staff during the Legislature's 2018 session, when Dismang was the chamber's president.
Petrus was known among teammates and friends for his enthusiasm, upbeat attitude and strength, both on and off the field, Nutt said.
"When he went to attack a linebacker or a down lineman, he did it with extreme violence and passion and energy," Nutt said. "And he'll help pick the guy up, but he was gonna hit you, and hit you time and time again, and he did it with a smile on his face."
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.
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