WASHINGTON, N.J. — A New Jersey high school star quarterback died after suffering an injury on the field, school officials said Saturday.
Three-sport athlete Evan Murray, 17, of Warren Hills Regional High School died after he was hurt in a game against Summit High School on Friday night. Murray had been the football team’s starting quarterback for three years.
A statement from interim Superintendent Gary Bowen said the school community is “deeply saddened” by his death. Bowen declined to take questions from reporters Saturday, saying a cause of death has not yet been determined. Authorities said an autopsy was planned.
Murray’s family declined to comment to news reporters, although a group has gathered outside the family’s home.
People who attended the game said the 17-year-old Murray walked off the field under his own power after taking a hit in the backfield late in the second quarter. A short time later, he apparently collapsed.
Murray was hit in the backfield in the second quarter and was helped of the field. A short time later, he apparently collapsed on the sideline and was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
Murray felt “woozy” after the tackle but tried reassuring his teammates he would be fine as he was lifted on a gurney, witnesses told the New York Daily News.
“He tried giving a thumbs-up to the rest of the team, and all of us cheered,” said Kaitlin Bell, 16, a junior varsity cheerleader. “Our coach was telling us he was going to be all right. We didn’t expect anything would happen.”
His teammates said Saturday that they were unsure whether the hit he took before he collapsed was the one that caused him to collapse.
“I’m not sure if it was that last hit on him that actually did the damage, or previous plays. I do know that he wasn’t feeling too good prior to the hit and seemed tired,” junior Bailey Lieberman told NJ.com. “He did take a pretty hard hit just before the last (hit), where he took a helmet to the stomach.”
Coaches, students and community members gathered at the school’s football field Saturday for a memorial. Griefs counselors were made available Saturday and will be available Sunday.
Members of the school community said they were shocked by Murray’s death.
“I can’t comprehend what happened,” said one parent.
Taylor Coughlin, a 16-year-old junior at the school, told The (Easton) Express-Times that she had first met Murray in the seventh grade. She said he was “an amazing student and an amazing athlete. He stood out in his athletics, his academics — everything.” Murray also was a standout baseball player and basketball player.
Coughlin said many students first learned of Murray’s injury and death through social media postings.
“A lot of people were in disbelief and didn’t want to believe it,” she said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the New York Jets football team were among dozens of people and groups from around the country who posted condolences via social media Saturday.
On behalf of all the people of New Jersey, Mary Pat and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Murray family on the loss of Evan.
“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 passing.
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
Summit schools Superintendent June Chang said he and other district officials met with the Summit football team on Saturday morning, so the coaches and players could speak about what happened. They also provided them with information on support services.
A GoFundMe fundraiser for the family was started Saturday and has raised more than $20,000 by early evening.
According to the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 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 center also reported that five high school football player fatalities occurred last season outside of extertional activities (four athletes died at home and one unknown), The center attributed the suspected cause of those deaths to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and unknown cardiac (issues).
USA TODAY High School Sports contributed to this report.