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James Prince is being remembered not only as a fearsome football player but also as a likable student.
Prince, who died June 11 of an apparent drowning, was a 17-year-old senior at South Brunswick High School.
“When tragedies like this happen,” said Roman Kelley, who coached Prince for two seasons at South, “everybody uses clichés: ‘He walks in a room and lights up a room.’
“All those clichés, they’re true for James. He really did have a bright smile. He really did brighten up a room when he walked in it. That went from the classroom, the locker room, the weight room, everywhere he went.”
Last season, Prince was all-conference in football. In his senior year as a defensive end, Prince made 78 tackles, including one sack. He recovered one fumble and forced two fumbles. He intercepted one pass and broke up three passes.
“He was a very intimidating-looking (player) as an outside linebacker or defensive end,” South Brunswick High School athletics director Chris Roehner said. “I’d be afraid to run in his direction.”
West Brunswick athletics director Jimmy Fletcher coached against those South teams.
“We definitely knew where he was,” Fletcher said. “We were trying to make sure we were reading him. He was a good player.”
Prince also was a tight end. Last season he had 348 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns.
“He caught a few key passes his sophomore year when we had that outstanding team,” Roehner said. “He was a person you could depend on to make the big play on defense and possibly make the big catch on offense.”
“He never missed a weightlifting session, he never missed a summer workout,” Kelley said. “He probably played more snaps (his junior season) than anybody else.”
Just as important, Prince was team player, Roehner said.
“He loved to practice,” Roehner said. “He didn’t mind being out there after school. He loved being around his teammates.
“Come game night, he was intense. He was ready to get out there on the field and play to the best of his ability.”
Prince was a versatile athlete. He also played basketball. Scott Wainwright was his coach.
“He was your typical football athlete who possessed some basketball skills,” Wainwright said. “He was a big, strong kid and he could rebound, but he was a natural leader. Guys really followed him. In the locker room, he did a lot of good. He kept a lot of chemistry going. He did what the coaches asked and kept everybody in the right direction.
“He was a senior for a few years as far as I am concerned because he’s always kind of been an older kid in his attitude and his personality. It was an asset to have that in the locker room.”
“He very easily could have been a three-sport athlete,” Roehner said. “He excelled in football and he excelled in basketball. And if he wanted to, he could have been very good in track.”
“He would work on a farm (during track season),” Wainwright said. “(Then) he would come into football and basketball. He worked. He had a really good work ethic. As he got older, I think he understood people were depending on him and he made some tough decisions (about sports). He was really self-driven.”
“He just comes from a great family,” Kelley said. “I can’t say enough good things about him, I can’t enough good things about his brother (Levi) or his family.
“I knew the mom really well. She did a heck of job raising both of those young men. My initial thoughts and concerns and prayers go out to her. She’s a wonderful mother and they’re lucky to have her.”
Prince had not yet made any commitment to a college for football, Roehner said.
“I don’t think he had anything pinned down,” he said.
“He was weighing a few things,” Wainwright said. “He has a strong family structure. And the one thing he’s always been able to do is work and earn a dollar.He had some family obligations. He was weighing whether this was the right time for college.
“He did have some offers that he was working on with North Carolina A&T and Catawba for football. He had options. He was a terrific student. James was always one to keep his options open.”
“Whatever school he was going to,” Kelley said, “that school and that student body would have been better because of James.”
Kelley said Prince was just as focused in the classroom as he was on the football field.
“He’s the type of kid that sat in the front of the classroom and he always had his hand raised,” he said. “He wanted to be heard. He loved class participation. He loved being a student as much as he loved being an athlete.”
Roehner was an assistant to football and basketball coaches when Prince was a sophomore and junior, so he often had contact with Prince. For Roehner, Prince was like an unofficial athletics director.
“It was just kind of comical that when somebody would say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or do something they shouldn’t do, James was always the first to remind everyone, ‘Coach Roehner was close by—you better watch what you were doing.’
“I knew he had my back. He always had my back.”
“James went out of his way to do the right thing,” Kelley said, “and he went out of his way to make sure the younger kids at South Brunswick did the right things. When a 14- or 15-year-old made a wrong decision or a bad choice, he corrected them. That says a lot about his leadership.”
Prince’s popularity was evident when news spread about his death.
“When you came in to school (June 12),” Wainwright said, “and when people were discussing, ‘Hey, something happened to James,’ nobody had to say ‘James who?’ Everyone knew whom you were speaking of. It is such a common first name, that is very rare.”
Prince’s presence often bettered everyone’s mood.
“You felt better when he was in the room,” Wainwright said. “We had a period of time this season when he wasn’t with us (in practice) due to some of his family obligations. We definitely took a step back in our morale. When he’s around, guys feel better.”
“He really was a leader in that school,” Kelley said, “obviously as an athlete, but more importantly as a person.”
Prince and South Brunswick High School were a perfect match, Roehner said.
“Everybody enjoyed being around James,” Roehner said. “He loved being around the coaches. He loved being around the kids. He loved being part of the South Brunswick football team.”