LINDEN, N.J. (PIX11) – A New Jersey community is mourning the death of a high school football player who died from an apparent traumatic brain injury suffered during a game earlier this month.
The family of 16-year-old Xavier McClain is now preparing to lay him to rest as some raise new concerns over safety on the football field.
“He wanted to be a professional football player and he wanted to play ball. He loved football. That’s all I can say. He got hurt doing something he loved,” said Xavier’s father, Norman McClain.
Xavier, a standout football player from Linden High School, passed away on Wednesday after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during a conference game against Woodbridge High School two weeks ago.
“They said he was running a kickoff return and he got hit and he never regained consciousness,” said Norman.
It’s rattled many who knew him, and even those who didn’t. The New York Jets on Friday paid tribute to the teen.
“It’s just a sad day any time you lose a member of the football community, so our heart goes out to him and his family,” said Jets head coach Robert Saleh.
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead is a friend of the McClain family. He was in attendance at the Sept. 9 game and is still stunned over the loss of Xavier.
“I saw a commotion. I did not know who the kid was that was laying down,” Armstead said. “Then confirmation came that it was Xavier McClain. It really was shocking.”
The play where the sophomore suffered a blow while returning the second half kickoff is now under scrutiny. His family is asking for more transparency on what went wrong.
Michael Prybicien is the vice president of Sports Safety International, a network of sports professionals who educate others on injury care and prevention. While measures have been put into place in recent years to lessen injury on kickoff returns, the game is unpredictable, Prybicien said.
“We are trying to attack it from all different means, from rules to the game, proper technique and education. Unfortunately, there is an inherited risk, and if you are that one person that it happens to, it’s heartbreaking,” Prybicien said.
For the remainder of the season, Xavier’s teammates plan to honor the sophomore by donning the symbol “E4X” on their uniforms, which translates to “Everything for Xavier.”
Linden High School is also planning a memorial for Xavier in the coming days.