By Maximillian C. Burgos
Calling Donald “Donny” Klein, offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for the College’s football team, larger than life is an understatement. Known as a hard worker with a contagious positive attitude, his death on Oct. 30 deeply impacted the campus community.
Klein died in a car accident on I-95 in the early morning on Oct. 30, when his Jeep Wrangler veered off the road and struck a tree. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the collision, according to NJ.com.
“When we all heard the news, we were just heartbroken,” said senior offensive lineman Michael Garcia. “Everyone is still so heartbroken on the inside and our coaches kept telling us to simply win the day.”
The Lions may have lost their last home game of the season against Christopher Newport University on Saturday, Nov. 3, but they won the day at Lions Stadium.
They played their hearts out, but the pain from their loss was readily apparent. The offense struggled to keep a rhythm going, but they pushed, tackled and hustled their way to the last whistle.
“I think as an offensive line, it hit us the hardest,” Garcia said. “We spent every day, every second of football with him and it’s just crazy to think he is gone.”
The news deeply affected the team and shook it to its core. Despite the sudden tragedy, the team rose to the occasion. After all, there was still a game to practice for.
“We have never had a week like this,” said senior offensive lineman Ryan Signora. “Finding out the news on Tuesday was definitely a blow to the team’s morale. Just like every other week though, we had to focus on getting better and keep preparing for the upcoming opponent, and I think we did that. It acted as an outlet for the emotions they were feeling all week.”
When the football team’s Head Coach Casey Goff was asked to comment on Klein both as a person and a coach, he paused for a moment before he delivered a deeply heartfelt response.
“Donny was just an absolutely amazing guy — that’s all you really need to know about him,” Goff said. “His ability to connect with people and to put a smile on your face was uncanny. He just loved life. He loved coming to work every day. He loved coaching these kids everyday. He poured everything he had into it.”
Many people have reached out to offer their condolences to Klein’s family on social media. Not only does the campus community feel the loss, but so does Klein’s family and residents of Manasquan, where Klein played football and lacrosse and later worked as a coach for both teams.
Klein was most remembered for the energy he carried and his love of life itself. In the Asbury Park Press, Klein was described as an indomitable spirit and a force of nature. His passing left a clear void in the coaching room for the Lions.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a harder worker,” Goff said. “He never complained, things like that simply just never entered his mind. He just wanted to make sure that playing football was an experience that these kids enjoyed every second of because that’s how much he loved it, and I think that’s what we’ll take out of this. The guy was a technician. He was the best offensive line coach that I’ve even seen in terms of his ability to teach the position.”
Klein will forever be a part of the College’s football community, and his loss was an unfortunate reality for a football team already so battered by adversity. In the past four years, the team has had four straight losing seasons with three different head coaches and has been plagued by a high rate of injuries.
The team will take time to heal from this shocking loss, but they will be left better for having known and been coached by Klein, according to Goff.
“The thing is we are all going to carry a piece of him because of the type of person he was,” Goff said. “The type of coach, the type of friend, the type of father he was for everyone. He was just a special kind of dude. He’s the type of guy this sport needs right now. More people have to step up and coach the way he did, bringing the passion and the love that he did. I know that’s what we are going to miss, that smile every morning when he came in because he loved being here.”