Tragedy struck St. Xavier high school and the local football community on Friday as news broke that senior Matt James, a Notre Dame-bound recruit, died after falling from a third story balcony of his Days Inn Motel on Front Beach Road at Panama City Beach, Fl during his first day of spring break.
The incident occurred 6:26 p.m. on Friday night, according to WJHG-TV. Police said the initial indications are that he died instantly. They are still investigating and said a full report should be available later.
News traveled quickly through the community. Several hundred students, faculty and friends gathered at the high school's football field last night for a candlelight vigil.
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"It's amazing how quickly the word spread and how quickly the community came together," said Mark Motz, St. X director of communications and publications in a statement released by the school.
"Lyrics in our alma mater say 'we are Xavier men forever,' and I think this gathering showed how much these guys take that to heart. For this many people to appear on the first night of spring break is a testament both to Matt and to the strength of the St. X community in difficult times."
The 6-foot-6, 291-pound tackle was a physical specimen and a force on the field, but somewhat of a gentle giant off it.
"Matt was a one-of-a-kind kid," QueenCityHigh.com and TriStateFootball.com analyst Greg Shoemaker claimed. "I've never met a kid that possessed so much talent, but never let you know it by the way he carried himself. He was a true class act."
James was one of the most sought after prospects in nation from the Class of 2010. The senior opted to sign with Notre Dame over Ohio State in February after an intense recruiting period.
"The Notre Dame football program is in a state of disbelief and incredible sadness with the news of this tragic event," head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement Saturday morning. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Matt James in this most trying of times."
He was set to be joined by teammate and best friend, quarterback Luke Massa, next fall in South Bend.
Massa was reportedly one of the friends with James at the time of his death and is taking the incident extremely hard.
"Luke is devastated," his father Gary Massa told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He lost one of his best friends."
James was named an U.S. Army All-American this season and well as garnering First-Team All-State in Ohio's Division I and picking First-Team All-TriStateFootball.com for the second straight season. He helped the Bombers to a 9-3 record and GCL South title this year. The three-year starter also played a big role in the school's Division I state title as a sophomore. Rivals.com rated him as the nation's 86th best overall prospect within his class.
In addition, James played on the school's basketball team and helped the Bombers win a regional title less than a month ago.
The tragedy occurred on Good Friday and just one week before what would have been James' 18th birthday. Funeral plans have yet to be announced.