Tragedy struck in Union County for the second time in two weeks when Linden sophomore Xavier McClain died Wednesday from an apparent head injury sustained in a Big Central Conference game against Woodbridge Sept. 9.
That fatal injury was suffered only one day after Rahway senior Ali Muhamad died in his sleep and was discovered by his father as he attempted to wake Ali for school.
Xavier sustained the blow as he returned the second-half kickoff for Linden, according to a person at the game who is not authorized to speak publicly. Game video shows play was stopped and an ambulance along the Linden sideline about 10 minutes after the play
Xavier’s death was announced late Wednesday night by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead on several of his social media platforms. Linden faculty and staff received confirmation of the 16-year-old’s death Thursday morning in a district-wide email from Denise Cleary, acting superintendent of schools.
“Together we prayed for a miracle and hoped for a different outcome,” Armstead wrote on his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. “I trust that God knows better. He needed an angel and decided to call Xavier home to be with Him.
“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.”
Linden won that game against Woodbridge, 31-0, with substantial contributions from Xavier on both sides of the ball. He carried twice for 18 yards, caught an 8-yard pass from Tequan Thomas and also made four tackles out of the secondary.
Xavier (5-5, 132 pounds) was a budding star for head coach Al Chiola, having broken into the lineup at times as a freshman last season. He was one of several sophomores this season either starting or earning regular playing time for the Tigers.
Linden (1-2) was scheduled to host Perth Amboy 7 p.m. Friday at home in a Liberty Gold Division matchup, but that game was moved to 1 p.m. Saturday in Linden. Linden coaches were not available for comments.
Eerily enough, neighboring Linden and Rahway opened the season against one another in a cross-divisional Big Central battle. Rahway won, 21-20. Ali Muhamad, who did not play in that game, died six days later. His wake service is being held today (Thursday) in Roselle.
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Mike Kinney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikeKinneyHS.