SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the tragic death of a standout high school football player who fell from fifth-floor hotel balcony should cause people to think about what students do on spring break.
“I think a lot of people are going to sit back and take real stock on what is the role of spring break? What is that all about?” Kelly said after Notre Dame held practice Wednesday afternoon. “I think we could probably have a sociology lesson for hours about that and probably still come back to the same place and that is, a tragic accident.”
Matt James, who was scheduled to enroll at Notre Dame in June, died Friday in Panama City Beach, Fla. Police said the 17-year-old offensive lineman was drunk and acting belligerent when he fell as he leaned over a railing to shake his finger at people in an adjoining room. Police said James was in Panama City Beach with six adults and 40 fellow students.
The 6-foot-8, 290-pound offensive lineman committed to Notre Dame on signing day last February, the first big recruiting victory for Kelly since being named coach in December. Wednesday was the first time Kelly talked with the media in South Bend about the death of James.
“I think we could all sit down and talk about what we could have done,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Kelly will fly with five assistant coaches and tight end Kyle Rudolph after practice Friday afternoon to attend the visitation and prayer service at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, where James was a student.
“We think it’s important we be able to see the family face to face,” Kelly said. “Obviously Matt did not play here but he will always be part of the Notre Dame family. We want to make sure that message is clear.”
Kelly described James as a “big, old teddy bear.”
“He really had a dry sense of humor,” Kelly said. “He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to stand out.”
Rudolph had known James since the fourth grade. Although Rudolph was two years older, James played on the same team because he had to play against older players because of his size. Rudolph said the death of James shocked the team.
“You really can’t describe it when someone that young goes. It’s awful,” Rudolph said. “Everybody on the team feels like we lost a brother.”
Kelly said the team held a Mass on Tuesday night for James.
“I think it was good closure for some of our players. I think everybody asks the question, ’Why?’ Mass was really to kind of try to answer some of those questions,” he said.
Kelly said the school is talking about possibly doing something to commemorate James’ life, but was not at a point he could talk about it.
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