Albert Martin was a gregarious young man who was just beginning to reach his potential when his life was cut tragically short while playing the game he loved.
Martin, 17, a Red Bank Regional High School senior, died at Riverview Medical Center Monday after collapsing during a basketball scrimmage against Point Pleasant Beach High School.
Shellshocked RBR students, coaches, administrators and board members spoke Tuesday about the loss of a young man described as a friend to all who had worked tirelessly to improve his conditioning and grades to be a better athlete and student.
"Albert was the perfect example of what a Red Bank Regional student looked like," athletic director Louis DalPra said. "He took advantage of every opportunity."
Martin, a Red Bank resident, was described as an imposing presence who nevertheless was a "teddy bear" to all who knew him. The 6'3" senior forward had lost roughly 50 pounds and focused on his grades to improve his chances to play collegiately.
"He worked his behind off," head basketball coach Scott Martin (no relation) said. "Albert was going to go to college."
Coach Martin said the senior was a leader among his teammates and classmates.
"He was shouldering the responsibility of being a senior in the program. He was hitting his stride as a young man," he said.
Martin played six minutes of the first quarter of Monday's scrimmage before the coach sat him to give a sophomore some minutes. RBR fell behind Point Beach with Martin on the bench. The coach huddled his players at the start of the second quarter and urged them to play hard.
After breaking the huddle, coach Martin saw his only senior's "eyes roll back... next thing I know he collapsed and hit the floor hard."
"I don't know medically (at the time) what's going on... but everyone knew this wasn't good," coach said. "He didn't say any words but he was groaning."
Coach Martin, the team trainer and principal Risa Clay checked Martin's vitals and began chest compressions until Little Silver police and EMS arrived. Martin was transported to the Red Bank hospital, where he died, Little Silver police Chief Daniel Shaffery said.
'Such an amazing kid'
Martin was remembered as a teen full of potential who made Red Bank Regional a warmer place with an ever-present smile.
"I was looking forward to seeing him shine," senior student Kadyjah Smith said. "He was such an amazing kid and so easy to love."
Clay said the school saw "the promise of someone we had watched for years." Martin "took advantage of every opportunity," DalPra said.
Junior teammates Corey Martin and John Dengler described Martin as a great teammate who was the clear leader on the RBR basketball squad.
"He looked forward to this year so badly," Corey Martin said. "As the only senior he set a good example for the younger kids," Dengler said.
Senior Garret Sickels, a Penn State-bound football standout, is "so proud to know Albert.
"He's the type of guy you want on your side," Sickels said.
Martin's demise is the second untimely death of an RBR student this year after senior was pronounced dead at home in early September.
"This community has been through so much," Sickels said. "It makes you appreciate everyone around you."
Girls basketball coach James Young was a mentor to Martin from his freshman year in high school and counseled him on staying focused and applying himself in the classroom and on the court.
"We talked about getting out of Red Bank and becoming a man," Young said.
The coach said school officials and students alike are in shock, unsure of how to move forward after such a loss.
But "our kids are one family," he said. "We will persevere."
'We will heal'
Coach Martin said his team can only take things "breath by breath, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day" as they heal and try to make sense of Martin's death.
"We're going to decide in the coming days how best to honor Albert and his memory," he said.
Counselors have been made available to the students, staff and families, Superintendent Jim Stefankiewicz said.
"The whole school is hurting," said school board president John Garofalo, but "the school is united in this.
"We will heal."
Smith, Martin's classmate, perhaps spoke for all when she said it "was a blessing to get to know Albert.
"He'll forever be remembered."