CINCINNATI — A “drunk and belligerent” 17-year-old Notre Dame football recruit was killed in a fall from a fifth-floor hotel balcony during his senior-year spring break in Florida, authorities said Saturday.

Matt James died Friday around 6:30 p.m. at the Days Inn Motel in Panama City Beach. Police said he was dead when officers arrived.

“It appears to be a tragic accident,” Panama City Beach police Maj. David Humphreys said.

James’ former teammates at St. Xavier High School gathered for a private prayer service in the school chapel, mourning the second death of an athlete this school year. James, an all-state offensive lineman, had been the first top signing for new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

James was part of a group of about 40 St. Xavier students and a half-dozen parents on the trip.

“Witnesses and friends indicate he had become drunk and belligerent,” Humphreys said. “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 hotel railing met the standards for proper height. He said police would be interested in pursuing charges if they learn who provided alcohol to James, who was underage.

Police said an autopsy on James would be done later. Toxicology results were pending.

James’ parents went to Florida on Friday night, returned to Cincinnati and released a statement Saturday evening asking for privacy while they make funeral arrangements and grieve.

“Matt was a very special young man, and it is gratifying to us that you all could see that as well,” Jerry and Peggy James said.

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman also was on St. Xavier’s varsity basketball team.

Word of his death spread quickly through social-networking sites Friday night. Students gathered at the school’s football field for an impromptu vigil.

On Saturday, James’ former football and basketball teammates held a private prayer service led by the school’s chaplain, Paul Rieselman. “His message was that we have to take care of one another,” school spokesman Mark Motz said.


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