It's been a year since he played football for the Cougars, but Manassas Park High School has not forgotten No. 55. Yesterday, students remembered him with sadness. Now Jamie Friend has another number: homicide victim No. 27 in Fairfax County this year, stabbed 15 times Sunday night on the side of a county road.

"The kids are just so crushed," Jo Moore, a school administrative assistant, said yesterday of the 300 students at Friend's alma mater. "This is a small community, so they're very close . . . . It's just hard to comprehend these kinds of things."

The incident on Popes Head Road about 6:30 p.m. was over in a matter of minutes, Fairfax police said. They said Friend, 20, was a passenger in one car. They have charged a passenger in another car, Robert E. Ennis Jr., 22, of Clifton, with murder in connection with the slaying.

Police said the two men did not know one another and became involved in an altercation in the 12000 block of Popes Head Road. Ennis, in the county jail, would not talk about the incident yesterday.

The victim's two best friends, who were with him that night, said in interviews yesterday that the three were cruising in a 1988 Thunderbird when a Cougar began tailgating them. The Cougar, containing three males and a female, pulled alongside the Thunderbird and someone motioned for them to pull over, they said.

"We didn't know; we got out of the car," said Mike Jenkins, 20, who was driving. "They said they thought we wanted to race them."

Jenkins said they told the group they had no intention of racing anyone.

Then "everybody started getting smart with everybody else," said Billy Noel, 20. "I got into a fight with one guy . . . . Then I saw Jamie staggering around in {a nearby} yard. I walked up to him and said, 'Jamie, you all right?' There was blood on his face, then he fell down. I rolled him over. I said, 'Get help, Mike!' "

While Jenkins ran for help, Noel stayed with his friend. Someone called for an ambulance for Ennis, who received what police called self-inflicted cuts. Friend was pronounced dead at Fairfax Hospital; Ennis was treated and arrested there.

Malcolm Friend said a doctor told him his youngest child was stabbed 15 times with a buck hunting knife. Jamie's parents and eight siblings were trying to make sense yesterday of the senseless killing of the child they still called "the baby."

"Jamie was a quiet boy," said his father, 64. "There wasn't a boy in this {Mananass} Park who didn't like Jamie."

Friend lived with his parents in a modest, white clapboard house with green shutters and worked for the city's Public Works Department. His father said that before Friend went "just riding around" on Sunday, he had gone to look at a deer someone had shot, then come back and raked the leaves and cleaned the gutters at what has been the family home since 1955.

Friend graduated last year from tiny Manassas Park High School, where he was an average student but left a legacy of excellence in sports, particularly football, and nearly 300 fans, according to school officials. Some students were receiving counseling at the school yesterday to help them cope with his death.

"He was a real good football player, yes indeedy," said Moore, who got to know the linebacker well during his four years at the high school. "I can only tell you that he was one of the sweetest, neatest guys that has ever come through this school."