Kelly remembers James

Updated: April 7, 2010, 9:55 PM ET
By George Smith | ESPNChicago.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said he had a close relationship with Matt James, the recruit who died over the weekend after falling from a motel balcony in Panama City, Fla.

Speaking after practice on Wednesday, Kelly called the death "a tragic accident."

Matt James
John Albright/Icon SMICoach Brian Kelly called Matt James' death 'a tragic accident.'

He described the 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman as a "big old teddy bear."

"He really had a dry sense of humor," Kelly said. "He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to stand out."

Kelly had recruited James at Cincinnati and then at Notre Dame when he became the head coach in December.

"He came because of Notre Dame, but he also came because of me," Kelly said.

The team held a Mass for James Tuesday night, and the coaching staff is planning to fly to Cincinnati Friday for the visitation that night and the Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday morning.

"We think it's important to be able to see the family face-to-face," Kelly said "Obviously, Matt did not play here but he will always be part of the Notre Dame family. We want to make sure that message is clear when we're there."

Tight end Kyle Rudolph said he had known James since the fourth grade and hosted James during his recruiting visit at Notre Dame.

Rudolph also will travel to Cincinnati to represent Notre Dame players.

"Everyone was just shocked. Definitely heavy hearts. My prayers go out to the James family," Rudolph said. "You really can't describe it when someone that young goes. It's awful."

Obviously, Matt did not play here but he will always be part of the Notre Dame family. We want to make sure that message is clear when we're there.

-- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly on recruit Matt James, who died Saturday

Kelly also said he hopes that James' death makes people think about what students do on spring break.

"I think a lot of people are going to sit back and take real stock on what is the role of spring break? What is that all about?" Kelly said after Notre Dame held practice Wednesday afternoon. "I think we could probably have a sociology lesson for hours about that and probably still come back to the same place and that is, a tragic accident."

James, who was scheduled to enroll at Notre Dame in June, died Friday in Panama City Beach, Fla. Police said the 17-year-old offensive lineman was drunk and acting belligerent when he fell as he leaned over a railing to shake his finger at people in an adjoining room. Police said James was in Panama City Beach with six adults and 40 fellow students.

Wednesday was the first time Kelly talked with the media in South Bend about the death of James.

"I think we could all sit down and talk about what we could have done," Kelly said. "Sometimes it's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Kelly said the school is talking about possibly doing something to commemorate James' life, but was not at a point he could talk about it.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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