By REBECCA DESFOSSE
Moving through the crowded hallways at Red Bank Regional, on the football field or in the paint on the school’s basketball court, Albert Martin cut an imposing figure.
In reality, though, he was six-foot-four and 220 pounds of “teddy bear,” a young man “just coming into his own” as a student and athlete, one with a future full of promise, his fellow students, coaches and others recalled Tuesday.
Less than 24 hours after collapsing during a basketball scrimmage, tearful members of the school community struggled to come to terms with the Red Bank 17-year-old’s sudden and thus-far-unexplained death.
Martin, the only senior on the varsity basketball squad, had played six minutes of the first period of a the first scrimmage of the season Monday afternoon, against Point Pleasant Beach High, without sign of any health issues, said Coach Scott Martin, no relation to the player.
“Without him, we struggled,” the coach said. As Martin prepared to re-enter the game with two other players, the team huddled on the sidelines, put their hands in at the center and called out “One, two, three BUCS!” At that point, Martin collapsed, the coach and others said.
After attempts to revive him courtside, Martin was transported to Riverview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
School officials said they did not know yet the cause of Martin’s death.
At a press conference called Tuesday afternoon, school officials and fellow students recalled Martin as “a kind soul,” a bighearted giant who was fun to be around and “the nicest kid.”
Senior football star Garret Sickels recalled that in first grade, Martin was the first kid to introduce himself, initiating a friendship that continued from that day. “He’s that guy you want to be friends with and have on your side,” Sickels said.
Baseketball team manager Kadyjah Smith, another senior, recalled that Martin would carry her books for her sometimes.
“He was so big, people were intimidated,” Smith said, “but he would say, ‘No, just give me a hug.'”
Martin had lost more than 60 pounds in the last year, becoming “lean and energetic,” said Coach Martin, and was getting better grades than in the past, according to Principal Risa Clay, who had recently congratulated him with a note for “fantastic” grades.
Choking up, Coach Martin said Martin “was just hitting his stride as a young man, and it was going to be a great stride.”
“All students are hurting,” said Athletic Director Lou DelPra, but “we will mend, go on and be stronger because of knowing Albert.”
Superintendent Jim Stefankiewicz said counselors were available to students, staff and family members.
Funeral arrangements have not yet announced.