Matt James, from St. Xavier High in Cincinnati, was new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's first big recruit—literally. A 6'6", 290-pound All-America offensive lineman, James picked the Irish over Ohio State on signing day in February. His blocking prowess aside, James was by all accounts a good student and a kind kid, selected by St. Xavier's faculty to be part of the mentoring program for freshman students.
So last weekend was one of gloom for the students, parents and administrators at the tight-knit, all-boys school of 1,551 after James fell to his death from a hotel balcony in Panama City, Fla., a week short of his 18th birthday. "It's devastating, a crushing blow," says school spokesperson Mark Motz. "His father, uncles on both sides of his family, his brother—they all graduated from St. X. His grandmother brought cookies every Christmas to the development office. This is a loss we are all feeling very deeply."
According to Panama City police, at around 6:30 p.m. last Friday, James was on the balcony of a fifth-floor room at a Days Inn where he and other St. Xavier students were staying while on spring break. He had been drinking alcohol, his friends and witnesses later told the police, and he was shaking his finger at guests in a neighboring room. He leaned over the balcony and fell.
Luke Massa, St. Xavier's quarterback last season and James's close friend, also signed with Notre Dame, and the two boys often talked about finding success together in college. Said Luke's father, Gary, "One of the visions I have in my mind is [that] after football games at St. X, [Matt] was like the Pied Piper. All the little kids, everybody's little brothers and sisters, would follow him around. He was just a gentle giant."
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A Hollywood Hills resident whose pet Lhasa Apso had gone missing tweeted that she would trade floor seats to the Lakers in exchange for leads on the dog's whereabouts.
JOHN ALBRIGHT/ICON SMI (JAMES)
LOOMING LARGE In January, James played in the Army All-American Bowl.