If Michael Mauti hadn't done this for a student at my alma mater, you wouldn't be reading about it here.
Before the story begins, meet Craig Moore. He's a senior at Athens (Pa.) Area High School, and he played defensive end for our school's football team this past fall. During an Oct. 26 road game, his life changed, probably forever. Lining up to stop a fourth-down conversion, Moore burst off the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. As the play developed, however, everything came crashing down - on top of his left leg.
"It felt like I hit a wall," Moore recalled. "Then I felt my leg give and I heard the snap. I knew, just knew. I looked down and my leg was grotesquely hanging at a weird angle."
The impact fractured his tibia and fibula. In the two weeks that followed, Moore went through eight surgeries. The first operation was to repair the compound fractures; the rest were to relieve "compartment syndrome," which developed in his leg. It's an extremely painful condition in which pressure builds within the muscles and prevents the proper flow of blood and nutrition. Left untreated, compartment syndrome can cause permanent muscle damage. Or, in some cases, result in amputation.
Seven surgeries later, doctors saved Moore's leg but nearly half of the muscle tissue and a major tendon had to be removed. Doctors told him it's likely he will walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Talking about the injury nearly three months after that October night, Moore is surprisingly upbeat. "It is what it is," he said. "I can't really change it now."
But Craig's mother, Kathy, said that wasn't always the case, especially in the immediate aftermath of the injury. He was in constant pain and was facing the possibility that he would lose his leg. At times, the frustration was difficult to escape.
But one day, somewhere in between surgery No. 2 and No. 8, Moore's phone rang. The memory is still a bit blurry, due to the anesthesia and pain medicine, but Moore looks back on the phone conversation as one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult time of his life.
Penn State's All-America linebacker had never met Moore before, nor does he have any connection to our high school. He was simply looking to make a difference. At that point, Mauti had suffered two devastating knee injuries during his Penn State career (the Indiana game, in which he suffered a third, was still weeks away), so his words to Moore were meaningful.
With the help of former Penn State assistant Fran Ganter, who has known Athens head coach Jack Young for years, Mauti found Moore's number and gave the kid a call.
"I just kind of wanted to talk to him and let him know that the world isn't over," Mauti told Blue White Illustrated. "Obviously, his situation was worse than mine, but I could relate a little bit in the sense that he needed to keep a positive mind-set and just keep his spirits up."
Even if the memory of the call is a bit foggy, it was well received by Moore and his family.
"It shows that he cares and has a heart," Moore said. "He ultimately tried to give someone in need help. Just the call, the guidance that he offered, I think it was awesome."
From a guy like Mauti, who helped keep Penn State's team together through the announcement of the NCAA sanctions last summer, random acts of kindness such as this shouldn't come as a surprise. But in some ways, they do.
In a world in which some of our best athletes can be just as deceiving off the field as they are on it, it's refreshing to see a gesture like Mauti's. But does it mean that I truly know him? Outside of the various postgame interviews and weekly conference calls, I don't.
Behind the scenes, he could be anyone. Who knows? Maybe he has a hush-hush online girlfriend or a top-secret South Beach connection that stocks him with deer antler spray. But I'm going to err on the side of believing in him this time, even if I don't know him outside of an interview setting.
What I do know is the legacy that he's leaving at Penn State. When you consider what he's done - not only on the football field, but off of it - his legacy is as concrete as it gets. That's made even more evident by his reaching out to Moore. It shows that maybe the Michael Mauti we saw rallying the troops at Beaver Stadium on Saturdays is the same person when the cameras aren't rolling.
Moore found out in early December that he had been accepted into University Park. He'll enroll in the College of Engineering in June. He'd always been familiar with Penn State's educational reputation, and even if Mauti hadn't called, there's a chance Moore still would have chosen the school. But Mauti's representation of Penn State made him certain of his future.
"The call kind of sealed it," Moore said. "If one of the football players is that respectful - that classy - to do something like that, then I can imagine the rest of the campus is going to have some pretty decent people."
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