Massive internal bleeding due to a laceration of the spleen has been cited as the cause of death of Evan Murray, the senior quarterback from Warren Hills Regional High School who died after being injured in a game against Summit on Friday night, according to the Morris County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Dr. Ronald Suarez, the Morris County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy on Murray. He determined that Murray’s spleen was abnormally enlarged, making it more susceptible to injury. Suarez said there was no evidence of head trauma or heart disease. He classified the manner of death as accidental.
Murray is the nation’s third high school football player to die from injuries suffered on the field this month. A player in Louisiana died from injuries suffered after absorbing a hit on a punt return during a varsity game, while an Oklahoma player died eight days after being injured in a game.
According to the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, which Dr. Frederick Mueller, a Woodbridge High School graduate, directed from 1982 through 2013, 77 high school football players have died nationwide as the result of injuries directly related to the game in the past two decades.
The center reported five direct fatalities on the scholastic gridiron last season, during which about 1.1 million high school players competed, according to National Federation of State High School Association data. Direct fatalities are classified as deaths that occurred as the result of competition.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association requires member schools to submit a report following a catastrophic injury. The NJSIAA shares that information with its medical advisory board, the NFHS and with the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
“Initial reports indicated that both a physician and trainer were present on the Warren Hills sideline (during the game),” NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko said, noting that 97 percent of New Jersey’s high schools have trainers on their sidelines, the highest percentage nationwide.
Interim Schools Superintendent Gary Bowen said the entire school community is mourning Murray and that grief counselors will be available at the high school for as long as needed.
Tap Into Summit reported that “Murray was taken from the field after a Summit interception and subsequent return late in the second quarter” and that shortly thereafter an ambulance “quickly transported Murray to an unknown location.” The Express-Times reported that Murray was taken to Morristown Medical Center.
Taylor Coughlin, a 16-year-old junior at Warren Hills, told the Express-Times that she did not see the play on which Murray was injured but that he walked off the field under his own power after taking a hit in the backfield. The Express-Times reported that Coughlin said that around halftime, Murray fell to the ground and the crowd fell silent.
“He was laying on the ground and everyone was looking at him,” Coughlin told the newspaper. “He did get back up. He stood up with help and sat on a gurney.”
On Sept. 17, Murray led the Blue Streaks to a victory over Rahway, which, like Warren Hills, is a member of the Mid-State 38 Conference.
“Obviously, this is a terrible thing and we feel for the entire team and, more importantly, his family,” Rahway head coach Brian Russo told MyCentralJersey.com.
“You could tell how composed and poised he was and the leadership he showed throughout the game. He was a player that anyone would aspire to be.”
A guy everyone wanted to be like. A true hometown hero. You'll be missed. You'll always be the leader of this team. pic.twitter.com/2u6Irlvhse— Mark Formo (@M_Formo) September 26, 2015
“It’s a tragedy and our heartfelt condolences to the family and the whole Warren Hills community,” NJSIAA spokesman Michael Cherenson said on behalf of the statewide athletics association in reaction to Murray’s death.
“It is very difficult to understand how a young man can lose his life playing the game he loves,” said MyCentralJersey.com football analyst Marcus Borden, an NJSIAA and NJFCA Hall of Fame head coach. “Obviously, it’s a tragic loss for the parents, the family, the school, the community and everybody associated with football.
“We don’t yet know the circumstances as to what caused this incident, but this tragic scenario reminds us how precious life is and how fragile a human being is in a game that is so violent.”
As a member of the Mid-State 38 Conference, Warren Hills’ next five opponents — Voorhees, North Plainfield, Governor Livingston, Somerville and Scotch Plains-Fanwood — are from the Courier News area.
“No matter how long you’ve been around the great game of football,” Russo said, “it really makes you think twice when a real-life (tragedy) like this happens.”
Voorhees High School Athletic Director Al Stumpf said he expected to know sometime Tuesday whether his school’s game at Warren Hills scheduled for Friday night in Washington would be played. Voorhees practiced Monday, preparing for the game. The game is also scheduled to be Warren Hills’ homecoming. Warren Hills is coached by former Somerville coach Larry Dubiel, a Somerville HIgh School graduate. Services for Evan Murray are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
Staff Writer Greg Tufaro: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributing: Staff Writer Harry Frezza