MAHWAH, N.J. – Words continued to elude many who knew them following the sudden, tragic deaths of two childhood pals and Don Bosco Prep graduates who were killed in a car crash on Route 287 in Mahwah.
CLICK HERE for funeral arrangements for Sam Cali and Leo Vagias .
"It's been a struggle dealing with the news that two of my best friends have passed away," said Zack Chakonis of Washington Township, a Don Bosco student athlete who competed alongside Sam Cali in wrestling and Leo Vagias in football.
Cali and Vagias, both 19 and from Towaco, were Division I athletes. Cali was a freshman wrestler at Rutgers University and Vagias a redshirted freshman kicker at the University of Rhode Island.
The Lexus they were in barreled off the highway before dawn Monday , hitting several trees, overturning and ejecting them, New Jersey State Police said.
A prayer vigil was set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the De Sales Hall Auditorium at the Ramsey school. Counselors were also on hand at the school during the school day to talk with alumni, students and family members about their losses.
"I'm just overwhelmed with sadness," Cali's former wrestling coach, Chris Bitetto, told Daily Voice. "I can't really come up with the words right now. He was a great kid. I'm definitely going to miss him."
Bitetto recalled Cali's competitive spirit.
"He would challenge anyone, even the coaches," he said. "It didn't matter who it was."
Like most athletes, Cali had his superstitions and "quirky nuances," the coach recalled with great fondness.
For instance, he had assistant coach Rickey Redd hold his bracelet during a match and wouldn't step on the mat without getting a hug from him either.
"He was very confident, very funny," Bitetto added.
Others who knew the pair struggled to express their emotions.
"We're all trying to understand what happened," added John Blasi, president of the Don Bosco Prep Touchdown Club. "It's a tremendous tragedy."
Both Blasi and former teacher Linda Murray remembered Vagias as quiet, polite and a hard worker.
He was "very into his position" and was devastated after missing a kick against Paramus Catholic that would have sent Bosco the state finals, Blasi said.
The Vagias family was extremely generous to the football program, Blasi said.
When Leo was a senior, they hosted a dinner at Frank's Waterside restaurant in North Bergen, he said.
"They did whatever they could to contribute to the program," Blasi said. "All the members of the Touchdown Club and its executive committee send their condolences to Sam and Leo and their families."
Meanwhile, Prep Principal John Stanczak issued a statement:
"We are heartbroken by the tragic death of our former students. Both young men represented the heart and soul of Don Bosco Prep – men of character and joy, kindness and goodness."