When Nicholas J. Gazzara III was a year old, he would line up about 50 small soccer balls in a hallway. If his parents touched them as they tried to tiptoe from room to room, the toddler would throw himself on the floor and cry.
"He was crazy about soccer," said his mother, Lynda. "That was his passion."
Mr. Gazzara, 18, of Buena Vista, grew up to be a standout soccer player at Sacred Heart High School in Vineland, where he held a school record for career goals.
He died Thursday, Dec. 16, when he lost control of his car on snow-covered Route 54 in Buena Vista, police said.
It was the same day the Press of Atlantic City named him a first-team all-star, noting that he had set a school record this season of 42 goals and led his team to the Cape-Atlantic League National title.
In October, Mr. Gazzara broke the 2008 school record of 33 goals in a season, with the first of his three goals in a victory over visiting St. Joseph's.
He scored 29 goals in his junior year. That year, when Sacred Heart fell short in its bid to defend its state championship, he was gracious in defeat. The team had returned to the sectional final despite a losing a number of key players through graduation.
"It was a good season," Gazzara said then. "I'm proud of what we accomplished."
Mr. Gazzara set a Cape-Atlantic League record, scoring in 26 consecutive games in his junior and senior years, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
In December, Mr. Gazzara was named to The Inquirer's All South Jersey second team.
On Thursday, Mr. Gazzara was driving home from a Hammonton gym where he had started working out with a trainer to prepare for collegiate soccer competition.
He was not wearing a seat belt when his car, headed south on Route 54, collided with a northbound box truck shortly before 4 p.m., state police said. He died at the scene.
"At least he wasn't in pain, but he's gone," his mother said.
Known as Nick, Mr. Gazzara was born in Woodbury but lived most of his life in Buena Vista.
A forward, Mr. Gazzara - No. 10 - was a prolific scorer.
"It was almost like the ball was attached to his foot," Sacred Heart athletic director Steve Tucker said. "When he did some good things, he kept a level head. When things didn't go his way, he also kept a level head."
Mr. Gazzara scored 81 career goals. He was leaning toward attending Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, his mother said.
He also snowboarded and played tennis.
"He was the best son anybody could have. The best son, the best friend, the best brother," his mother said.
He will be buried next to his sister, 2-year-old Casey Nicole, who died before her brother was born, during her second liver transplant.
"I never thought I would have more kids. I did and they were all healthy," his mother said. "I never thought I would lose another one."
In addition to his mother, Mr. Gazzara is survived by his father, Nicholas Jr.; siblings A.J. and Christopher; and grandparents Juanita and Alfred Iapalucci and Nicholas J. Gazzara.
Viewing will be from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Dec. 21, at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 1010 E. Landis Ave., Vineland.
A Funeral Mass will be said at noon at the church. Burial will be in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, 735 Union Rd., Vineland.