Community mourns when New Jersey high school football player dies after devastating head injury

An up-and-coming high school football star died Wednesday after succumbing to a head injury he sustained on the football field.

Xavier McClain, 16, was only a sophomore but was already a starter on Linden High School’s varsity team in Linden, New Jersey. In fact, he had played on the varsity squad as a freshman on a number of occasions.

On September 9, Linden took a devastating hit as he returned a kickoff to start the second half of a game against Woodbridge High School. The traumatic brain injury landed him in a coma at University Hospital for two weeks before he passed away on Wednesday. The specific cause of death has not been released.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead, a close friend of the McClain family, was at the game and made the saddening announcement of the teenager’s passing on his Instagram.

“Together we prayed for a miracle and hoped for a different outcome. I trust that God knows better,” Armstead wrote.

“With your prayers, Xavier fought a good fight. In the end, he succumbed to the injuries that he sustained a couple weeks ago while playing football during the LHS Tigers’ game vs Woodbridge.”

“This news hurts because I have known his parents, Lisa and Norm, for years, Xavier and Andres, their two sons, since they were little boys,” Armstead continued. “Tragically their worst fear came true.”

McClain’s parents were not in attendance at the game. Armstead’s wife informed them of their son’s injury.

“All of a sudden there was a child down. I had no idea who the child was at the time, but I knew it was quite serious,” Mayor Armstead said.

(Video: CBS 2 New York/YouTube)

“He was a good kid… He always spoke to me in a respectful way,” he said.

Fellow students remember Xavier McClain as a warm, friendly kid who was disciplined and loved playing all sports but was focused on his studies and football in particular.

(Video: ABC 7 New York/YouTube)

Linden HS won the game in which McClain was fatally injured. Contributing on both sides of the ball, he carried twice for 18 yards, caught an 8-yard pass, and made four tackles out of the secondary.

In a strange coincidence, that game took place only one day after a senior football player from neighboring Rahway High School died in his sleep. Rahway and Linden opened the season in a cross-divisional matchup; a game in which eighteen-year-old Ali Muhamad did not play. Six days later, his father found him dead as he tried to wake him for school.

Rahway head coach Brian Russo said, “Ali went about his business and he liked playing football. He was always willing to go out there and help. And a really nice kid who was tight with a lot of the other players on the team. The guys are hurt.”

Offensive coordinator Mike Kuchar said of Muhamad, who was the team’s scout center, “Those are the kids you’re relying on. Not just to prepare you for the next week’s opponent, but also to make sure there is an increase of kids that are able and have the depth you have,” he said, adding, “If our center went down, he’s the next guy. I always told him he was one play away from playing the whole game.”

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