Hometown hero

Hometown hero
Jay Price ’93 (center) led a squad of firefighters on water rescues when Hurricane Sandy struck his hometown of Manasquan, NJ. Behind him are the members of his rescue team.
Jay Price ’93 (center) led a squad of firefighters on water rescues when Hurricane Sandy struck his hometown of Manasquan, NJ. Behind him are the members of his rescue team. Photo (c) Andrew Mills for “The Star-Ledger.”

It had as much to do with living one’s life as it did playing football. No matter which TCNJ football coach—from head coach Eric
Hamilton ’75 to assistants such as Kelly Myers and Hank JohnsJulian “Jay” Price ’93 embraced how they tried to coax the most, and, well, the best, out of him and his teammates.

“You might be thinking you’re getting everything you can out of yourself,” Price says, looking back today, “but there’s always more, there’s always more you can give. There’s some other level you can get to. And they were good, they were good about pushing you, but they didn’t push you until they let you know that they really cared about you. They cared about you as a person more so than a football player.”

Such lessons were at work with Price when Hurricane Sandy hit this past fall. The former senior captain at what was then Trenton State College braved the fury of the superstorm to reach flooded homes and rescue people who had attempted to ride it out along the Jersey Shore community of Manasquan, Price’s hometown. He was still part of a team, still maximizing his talents, still putting others ahead of himself.

A history and secondary education major at TCNJ, Price now teaches the subject and is the head varsity football coach at Manasquan High School, his alma mater. A member of the township planning board and still a summer lifeguard going on 24 years, he also serves as a volunteer firefighter, a lieutenant with the Manasquan Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. His crew raced directly into the hurricane, risking their lives to save others in distress.

“I can honestly tell you it’s a lot like I recall being an athlete,” Price, now 43, says. “You practice this stuff, you train in this stuff, and when you’re out doing it, you’re really just focused on what you’re supposed to be doing.”

TCNJ’s football program honored Price at its team banquet on Jan. 27 because it was the right thing to do for a courageous alum. But just as important to Hamilton, he wanted to expose his current players to Price’s community service. “He’s quiet and unassuming and humble,” Hamilton says. And a hero in many people’s eyes.

Having worked the relief efforts of Hurricane Irene a year earlier, Price wisely sent his wife, Kirsten, and their three kids off to West Point, NY, to stay with his brother as Sandy bore down on the East Coast.

Halloween week was turning beyond scary. A day before the hurricane hit on Monday, Oct. 29, Price and his fellow firefighters drove in an Army cargo truck throughout neighborhoods to bark evacuation orders. They saw what was coming.

“When the storm came through, we knew Sunday it was going to be pretty bad,” Price says. “We were up on the beachfront. At dead low tide, waves were running down on Main Street and our inlet, and the dunes were starting to deteriorate and move west. You kind of knew it was going to be pretty bad.

Left to right: Greg Bellotti ’92, Jay Price ’93, and Eric Hamilton ’75 at the Lions Football Awards Banquet, in January.
Left to right: Greg Bellotti ’92, Jay Price ’93, and Eric Hamilton ’75 at the Lions Football Awards Banquet, in January.

“We were actually rescuing people Sunday morning at the first high tide. By Monday, when the storm made landfall, we were going nonstop from 3 in the afternoon to 11 o’clock that night, when (the command center) finally pulled us off the roads and pulled us in.”

Price estimates his eight-member crew, which included his younger brother, Sean, was involved in about 30 to 35 of the calls that came in to the command center. If the rescuers were supposed to be scared, they didn’t take time to realize it. They focused on their goals as pelting rain and 75 mph wind delivered chaos.

“When you hit a cross street that ran east and west, the water was moving, it was moving like a river,” Price says. “And that was a lot different (from Hurricane Irene). It was going through people’s houses. Decks, sheds, refrigerators were turned into, really, missiles.

“The people in our command center were pretty worried about what was going on outside. And things really picked up between 9 and 10 p.m. when the storm surge came in. You could see the water coming up, like on the sides of houses. It was no longer a trickle, it was filling like a bathtub, but it was moving. And once the tide surge had come through, the real danger was the ground had become so saturated. Trees started getting blown over and falling at a pretty rapid rate, power lines were coming down. It just got to a point where we were weighing [danger] versus benefits. And they decided to take us off the roads.”

George Steiner, a crew member, lauds Price for his quick thinking. “That’s what Jay is good at doing. Making a decision, standing by it, and going and doing it,” Steiner says.

In the days following Sandy, Price continued to help hold his hometown together. He searched the rubble for possible gas leaks and brought together members of his Manasquan football team to dig out homes and deliver relief supplies. “That was kind of the highlight of the week, watching those kids step in,” the proud coach recalls, “and they were the first to have seen any of that stuff. They handled it with some maturity and a commitment really beyond their years.”

TCNJ coaches saw those same characteristics during Price’s four-year career. A linebacker and special teams player, he was a member of the Lions’ NCAA playoff team in 1990 and a senior captain in 1992. He was a coach in training, realizing bigger games awaited him beyond the playing field.

But you might say he never hung up his helmet.

“When the whole storm had passed and the whole thing was over,” Price says, “people were a lot nicer to each other around here. It’s pretty good. And they still are. We’re still digging out, we’re still recovering.”

They can be glad to have Jay Price on their team.

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