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Matt James, Notre Dame Recruit, Dies in Fall From Hotel Balcony

Apr 3, 2010 – 7:21 AM
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Michael David Smith

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Matt James, an offensive lineman at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati who had accepted a scholarship to play football at Notre Dame in the fall, died Friday in a fall from a hotel balcony while on a spring break trip in Florida. He was 17.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the James family in this horrific time of loss," St. Xavier High School said in a statement. "The entire James family -- immediate and extended -- has always been good to St. X. We hope we can be of comfort in their time of need. We are a faith community and this certainly is a test of that faith, but we will get through it together. We are all devastated by the news, but grateful for the gift of having had Matt as a Xavier man."

"It appears to be a tragic accident," Panama City Beach police Maj. David Humphreys said Saturday. "Witnesses and friends indicate he had become drunk and belligerent. He had leaned over the balcony rail, was shaking his finger at the people in the next room over. He fell over."

Humphreys said the railing at the hotel met the standards for proper height and that police would be interested in pursuing charges if they learn who provided James with alcohol.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that James died almost instantly after falling from a third-floor balcony at about 6:25 p.m. at the Days Inn on Front Beach Road in Panama City. Luke Massa, a quarterback who was James' teammate at St. Xavier and will attend Notre Dame in the fall, was with him at the time.

"Luke is devastated," Massa's father, Gary, said. "He lost one of his best friends."

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.

Students at St. Xavier High School gathered on the football field Friday night to remember James, spokesman Mark Motz said Saturday. 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.

"The Notre Dame football program is in a state of disbelief and incredible sadness with the news of this tragic event," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement issued by the university. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Matt James in this most trying of times.

"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.

"My prayers and deepest condolences go out to the James family as well as the St. Xavier High School and Cincinnati communities."

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.

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, Ga., 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.

Police said an autopsy on James would be done later.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Filed under: Sports