Football coaches mourn the loss of Warren Hills player who died after injury on the field

Rahway first-year head coach Brian Russo is coming off his first win at the helm of the Indians.

Cranford 11th-year head coach Erik Rosenmeier is in the midst of preparing his team for a big, Raritan Division contest at Summit. Cranford finally defeated Summit in Mid-State 38 Conference play last year and this time seeks to top the Hilltoppers at Tatlock Field, which is no easy task.

Summit has won 29 straight regular season home games dating back to November of 2008.

Rosenmeier and Russo were the first opposing head coaches Warren Hills went up against. Summit third-year mentor Kevin Kostibos was the third last Friday night at Warren Hills.

Kostibos is also preparing his team for its next challenge – that of the Cranford Cougars.

But after what happened Friday night in Washington Township, in many respects just how big is that next game.

It is being reported that Warren Hills senior quarterback Evan Murray, 17, died Friday night – according to Monday’s autopsy – as the result of a lacerated spleen and internal bleeding after coming off the field with an injury during his team’s home game against Summit, which the visiting Hilltoppers won 14-12.

“When this whole thing took place our next game never crossed our minds,” Kostibos said. “Everyone is in shock. Football seems very low on the priority scale when you look at what happened.

“Our focus is on the Murray family, the Warren Hills kids, our kids and the Warren Hills Community.”

Kostibos said Monday night that Summit’s next game – this Saturday at home at 2 p.m. vs. Cranford – is still on.

Russo first heard of the news Saturday morning before his team’s game that day at Hillside. Rahway lost to Warren Hills 28-21 at home on Sept. 19.

“I was devastated,” Russo said. “He was a heck of a player and a leader. It’s just so tragic. It really makes you think twice.”

Russo said, because of social media, his players knew what happened before Saturday’s game at Hillside.

“Our plan was not to say anything to our kids before the game,” Russo said. “We didn’t want to put it in their minds.”

Rahway, behind a backup freshman quarterback named Jakir Robinson who just turned 14 last Wednesday, earned its first win by downing Hillside 20-14.

“We had two tough battles in our first games and told the kids that we had to play all out for four quarters,” Russo said. “We ran the ball effectively, didn’t turn it over and pulled it off.”

Russo said that junior quarterback Zahir Wilder may be coming back from his injury in order to play this Friday night’s game at Bernards.

Kostibos has many challenges with his team this week before Saturday’s home game against Cranford, with most of them related to what happened last Friday night.

While he did speak about the challenge on the field his team is going to have against Cranford in a battle of 3-0 squads Saturday, his focus is still with the Murray family and the Warren Hills community.

Rosenmeier also heard of the news Saturday morning after his team defeated Roselle 41-7 at home Friday night.

“It’s a tragedy and I’m sure I’m saying the same thing as everyone else,” Rosenmeier said. “It’s everybody’s worst nightmare. These kids are part of your own family as a football team and when you lose one, wow.”

Cranford opened its season with a 24-23 win at Warren Hills on Sept. 11.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to his family, his teammates and his coaches,” Rosenmeier said. “This is just something that you don’t ever want to consider happening and if it does there is nothing in the manual that tells you how to deal with it.

“I thought he had a solid night against us. Obviously he was one of the leaders of the team. It was a hard-fought game we were fortunate to win.”

As a coach, if you play on Friday night, your first inclination on Saturday is to try to scout an upcoming opponent.

Then you find out something like this happens.

“Disbelief was my first thought,” Rosenmeier said. “Disbelief, really. You really can’t believe that something like that could happen and did happen.

“As football players we’re all part of the same brotherhood. I talked to my kids about it, but I didn’t have anything profound or comforting to say. I don’t have an explanation. I can’t explain it away. I can’t make it right.”

As far as Saturday’s game at Summit is concerned, here’s what Rosenmeier said Monday night: “I think this has affected all of us – first of all the people at Warren Hills. This has also impacted Summit. We all feel it.

“Kevin (Kostibos) has so much to deal with right now. We know and respect each other and each other’s programs.”

The New Providence and Caldwell communities know exactly what Warren Hills is going through.

In October of 2001 New Providence senior end John O’Neill died two days after he collapsed on the sideline during a home game against Immaculata.

In October of 2006, Caldwell junior Jamie Bliss died during a Wednesday team practice after collapsing on the field.

Murray, like O’Neill and Bliss, will be remembered more for the outstanding young man that he was more than the athlete he came to be.