VANCOUVER -- A small memorial made up of flowers and football memorabilia continues to grow on the bank of the Fraser River as friends stop by to share their grief over the tragic drowning death of a former UBC football star.

Kory Nagata, 24, jumped off a nearby dock to fetch a football from the water and got caught up in the currents and undertow, disappearing beneath the surface.

The Canadian Coast Guard recovered his body the next day in the tidal mud flats at low tide.

“Kory was my best friend. He was like a brother to me,” said Sagi Gutbir, who had known Nagata since they were both Grade 8 students at Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Secondary School.

Nagata’s high school football coaches remember him for his tenacity and determination.

“He hit everything hard. Obviously the school work and then on the field as well. Laser focused,” said former Hugh Boyd head coach Bill Haddow.

Although he graduated as a star athlete and accomplished student, that wasn’t the reputation Nagata had at Boyd from the beginning.

“The main thing we talked about was Kory the success story,” said Bruce Haddow, a P.E. teacher and the head coach’s brother. “He came in with a bit of an edge to Hugh Boyd, a tough guy.”

After high school, Nagata spent two years playing junior football in Kelowna with the Okanagan Sun, before hitting his stride under the bright lights of Thunderbird Stadium with UBC’s football team.

Over three seasons with the T-Birds, Nagata excelled on the field as a running back and in the classroom.

In his final year, he was selected to the Academic All-Canadian team.

“It’s a significant loss for not only UBC football, and not only the university, but I really think society lost a kid who would have been a difference maker,” said UBC head coach Blake Nills.

His high school friends agree, saying Nagata was the one they always knew they could count on.

“No matter what it was, where you were, whatever you needed, you could just call Kory and he would be right there,” said Gutbir.

As the flowers pile up on the river bank near where Nagata died, those who knew and loved him are left to wonder what else the determined young man could have accomplished with his life — if it wasn’t so tragically cut short.