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Elsie Allen High School staff members and students are mourning the sudden death Tuesday of veteran teacher Patrick Troya.

A candlelight vigil will be held on campus Thursday for the 42-year-old Troya, who taught special education math at Elsie Allen for nine years and spent much of that time as a Lobos football coach. The cause of death was unknown Wednesday and is being investigated by the Sonoma County Coroner's Office.

"He just had a knack for reaching out and making sure kids were OK, checking on them, watching for them," said Elsie Allen Principal Mary Gail Stablein. "It's such a loss. We are going to feel it for a long time."

Born June 19, 1971 and reared in Marin County, Troya attended Terra Linda High School where he was a standout athlete.

In one high school football game, Troya suffered a broken nose but refused to leave the game, said his friend since kindergarten, Zachary Green of San Jose.

Troya went on to play football at College of Marin before transferring to the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Troya was a generous and open friend, Green said. "I always felt comfortable talking with him," he said. "There were no boundaries. He was never judgmental about anything."

Busy with his career and coaching, Troya always made time to drive an hour and half for Green's children's birthday parties. Troya gave the toast at Green's wedding as well as that of another childhood friend. He also gave the eulogy at his grandmother's funeral.

"He was one of the most open people that I knew," Green said. "He wore his emotions on his sleeve. There were no airs about him."

Elsie Allen students were told of Troya's death early Wednesday and immediately began crafting memorial messages in chalk outside of his classroom door. One such message read, "GO HARD."

"That was his thing, 'Go hard,'" Stablein said.

Students recalled that Troya greeted all kids, whether they were in his class or not, and regularly stood outside his door between classes, at brunch and lunch.

"He was passionate about teaching," Stablein said, describing Troya as "dedicated, sensitive and caring."

Counselors, therapy dogs and others were on hand on the Elsie Allen campus Wednesday to help students and staff grieve the loss.

A devoted uncle to his nephew, Jason, Troya's ability to connect with kids was obvious early on, said his mother, Dianne Troya of Terra Linda. "He was a very loving, caring person," she said. "He loved everybody, especially children."

An avid sports fan, Troya loved to watch the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. He was also a big music fan, often taking his nephew to concerts in San Francisco.

The Lobos football team members, who on Friday will suit up to play at Tomales, are planning to wear t-shirts honoring Troya, as well as helmet medallions with the initials "P.T."

In addition to his mother, Troya is survived by his father, Don Troya of Terra Linda; brother Steve Troya of Novato and sister, Lori Struthers of Sonoma.

Donations in Troya's name may be made to Elsie Allen High School, 599 Bellevue Ave., Santa Rosa, Ca., 95407.

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)