"We talked about that as a team," said St. Joseph's of Hammonton football player Corey Litton, who attended Friday's ceremony with several of his teammates, all of whom wore red-and-white football jerseys. "What if it was us? What if we lost our best friends? What if we were in the situation that team is in?"
Mainland's players keep putting on their kelly green football jerseys - those colorful symbols of their youthful vitality - and lining up outside churches. They keep hugging fellow mourners and listening to heartfelt eulogies of the four teammates who were killed in an automobile accident last Saturday on the Garden State Parkway.
Nick Conner, 16, was laid to rest on a warm, humid Friday after a viewing and memorial service at St. Gianna Beretta Molina parish church on Rt. 9 in Northfield.
Edgar Bozzi, 17, and Dean Khoury, 15, were buried on Thursday. The funeral for Casey Brenner, 17, was postponed from Saturday to next week because of the approach of Hurricane Irene.
"It's horrible," said Greg Castello, a 2010 Mainland graduate. "They all were great kids. They all brought a smile to everyone's face. You couldn't say a bad word about any of them."
The boys were individuals, cherished members of their own families, unique in their way.
Casey Brenner was the kid who loved country music and the beach, who worked hard to develop his fitness for his senior season, who was known by the nickname, "CheddaBob."
Edgar Bozzi was the speedy runner and top student. He was known for his ever-present smile, in school, in sports and at his summer job at Gillian's Water Park in Ocean City.
Nick Conner was the thoughtful boy who liked to express himself in lyrics and poems. He made a million friends at his job at a pizza shop on the boardwalk in Ocean City.
Dean Khoury, the youngest of the victims, was known as "Dino," to his family and friends. He was forever entertaining his family with his engaging, mischievous personality.
"None of these kids was a star football player," said Mike Gately, Mainland's director of athletics. "But look at the number of people who have turned out for these funerals. That tells you what kind of kids they were. They were great kids who loved being part of the team."
To the families, each loss must be incomprehensible, each funeral must be unfathomable.
But who can comprehend the cruel calculus of unfathomable times four? Who can imagine the exponential impact of the shocking loss of four vibrant young lives on teammates, classmates, the school community, the sports community?
"We've all been reminded of how fragile life is," Gately said. "I really don't know how these kids are getting through this."
One funeral of a young person, that's terrible enough. One vision of young athletes in football jerseys, climbing off a school bus outside a church and lining up to pay their final respects to a teammate, that's horrible enough.
Mainland's players went to their third funeral in 24 hours on Friday. They stood in line again. They hugged members of a heartbroken family again. They sat in pews and listened to an earnest sermon again.
After the service, they rode back to school and stood on the football field. They held hands as Conner's hearse and trailing limousines circled the stadium known as the "Mustang Corral" on the way to the cemetery.
Next week, they'll pull on their jerseys and do it again.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia