Saturday, April 3, 2010

High School: Notre Dame Recruit Died In Florida

A star high school football player from Ohio who was recruited by Notre Dame died after falling from a hotel balcony while on spring break in Florida, a high school spokesman said.

Students at St. Xavier High School gathered on the football field Friday night to remember senior Matt James following reports of his death in Panama City Beach, Fla., spokesman Mark Motz said Saturday. James, 17, apparently died instantly after he fell from the third-floor balcony of the Days Inn Motel at around 6:30 p.m. Friday, police told WJHG-TV in Panama City.

Police had not confirmed James' identity as of Saturday morning, but Motz said the school was "devastated" by the news. Motz said the impromptu vigil was organized as word of James' death spread through social-networking sites such as Facebook.

"When one of their own is in trouble, they band together," Motz said.

Whit Majors, a forensic investigator with the Florida State Medical Examiner's District 14 office, said the person who died was on spring break but did not release his name. The cause of the fall was being investigated, and officials planned to do toxicology tests, Majors said.

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman was an all-city and all-state football player for St. Xavier and signed a letter of intent in February to play for Notre Dame. He also was a member of the high school's varsity basketball team.

"The Notre Dame football program is in a state of disbelief and incredible sadness with the news of this tragic event," Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Kelly and his staff recruited James to go to Cincinnati, where Kelly coached the past three years. James followed him to Notre Dame when Kelly was hired in December, choosing the Fighting Irish over Ohio State.

"Matt was an extremely talented person who was very bright and possessed a great dry sense of humor," Kelly said. "He could not wait to join the Notre Dame family."

James' family received the news of his death at a gathering to celebrate the 50th birthday of an uncle, according to Dan Rudolph, who attended the gathering and whose son Kyle Rudolph is a Notre Dame tight end.

"His mom and dad were here when they got the call," Dan Rudolph told the Chicago Tribune. "The whole James family was here. I can't believe that happened."

Andrew Hendrix, a quarterback from Moeller High School in Cincinnati who is committed to Notre Dame, had met James.

"He was a great guy. Just from knowing him a little while, I knew he was dedicated and definitely was excited about going to Notre Dame. He was a great guy. It's a tragedy that it happened," he said. "He was a quiet guy, but always smiling. He definitely enjoyed life, that's for sure."

James isn't the first spring breaker to die from a balcony fall this year. Brandon Kohler, a 19-year-old from Winder, Georgia, died March 24 when he fell from a fifth-floor balcony at the Holiday Terrace Motel in Panama City Beach.

Funeral arrangements were pending. Motz said the school would take its cues from James' family, noting that St. Xavier is on spring break until April 12.

WJHG-TV, Panama City; ESPN; Reuters; AP; University of Notre Dame.

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