Gianna Meoli and Nick Conner made a sport of tormenting each other, just as many siblings do.

But the first thing Gianna, 11, remembers about her older brother isn't the taunting, the teasing or even the trampoline they shared.

"His smile," she said. "It's not with his teeth, it's more like a smirk."

"He can't smile with his teeth," added Vincentina Morrell, Nick Conner's girlfriend of three years. "We tried and tried, but he couldn't do it."

Dozens of family friends gathered at Conner's Northfield home Sunday to remember the 16-year-old Mainland Regional High School football player in advance of a planned candlelight vigil. It was the kind of gathering Conner would have enjoyed, with food and friends, and his Xbox waiting just upstairs.

"He has such a big Italian family - lots of uncles, aunts and cousins," said Conner's mother, Christina Barrella-Meoli.

Barrella-Meoli said her son had played football since the "taxi squad" days, when he was just 5 years old.

"He loved the camaraderie, being with all his friends," she said. "And the coaches, they contributed to the man he became."

Football, Barrella-Meoli said, gave him the heart to face down boys who were stronger or taller than he on the football field. It also gave him the perseverence to continue following his other lifelong passion, technology.

A rising junior, she said, Conner was already considering a future in engineering or technology. At home, she said, he spent hours on the computer or playing video games.

John Devaney said his cousin and best friend's favorite game was "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare." It was the most recent in a long succession of games and game systems they played together.

"After I got them, he'd get them, so we could play together," he said.

The two cousins were inseparable.

"He looked up to me and, even though he's younger than me, I looked up to him," he said.

Devaney said Conner looked forward to obtaining his driver's license and, eventually, owning a yellow Corvette. To get there, he said, his cousin hoped to get a high-paying job in electronics.

"He wanted to get into college for electronics," he said. "And if he couldn't do that, he'd stick with football and get scholarships."

Whichever path he took, Morrell said, Conner would've made it there.

"He'd show me his report card sometimes and he had amazing grades," she said. "I knew he'd be going somewhere amazing."

And Morrell said Conner had promised to take her with him.

"He said he wanted to be with me forever and always," she said. "He promised me."

The last time Morrell spoke to Conner was 11:05 p.m. on Aug. 19, the night before the car accident that took his life. Morrell said he talked to her "24/7 since the day [they] met," calling or texting throughout the day.

"He just told me he loved me and that he was going to bed," she said.

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