Irish football coach Brian Kelly said his program was “in a state of disbelief and incredible sadness” following the tragic death of top recruit Matt James, who fell from a fifth-floor hotel balcony and died while on Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Police said James, 17, was “drunk” at the time of the fall, which occurred around 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Days Inn Motel in Panama City Beach. An autopsy showed James died of brain injuries. He was vacationing with six parents and 40 fellow students from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, police said.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Matt James in this most trying of times,” Kelly said in a statement Saturday. “On a personal level, I got to know Matt quite well over the past few years, and he was a wonderful young man from a great family. Matt was an extremely talented person who was very bright and possessed a great dry sense of humor. He could not wait to join the Notre Dame family.”
Visitation will be held at St. Xavier High School on Friday from 4 to 8 p.m., and a funeral mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Xavier Church in downtown Cincinnati, according to a Tuesday press release from the high school.
“We are united in our grief over Matt,” St. Xavier president Fr. Tim Howe said in the release. “Our community is strong, and I know that the strength we receive from our faith in Jesus’ resurrection will help us get through this difficult time. Our love and prayers are for Matt and his family as we accompany them in the coming days of shared mourning.”
James, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle, was set to enroll in the fall as Kelly’s first major recruit at Notre Dame. The All-American chose the Irish on National Signing Day over Ohio State and Cincinnati.
“We would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support during this tragic time, particularly the family at St. X,” James’ parents, Jerry and Peggy, said in a statement Saturday. “Matt was a very special young man, and it is gratifying to us that you all could see that as well. We are touched by this outpouring of love.”
James’ high school quarterback, Luke Massa, is an Irish commit and was also on the Spring Break trip, according to the AP.
“This is just such a tragedy because he was just a wonderful, wonderful kid,” Massa’s mother, Mary, told the AP. “It’s heartbreaking.”