Life After Football

first_imgThis is placeholder text Advertisement Published on April 5, 2015 at 8:13 pm Contact Jesse: [email protected] | @dougherty_jesse,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. PASADENA, Calif. — Tyler Marona breaks down the start of the play like it’s unfolding all over again.Jerome Smith takes the handoff in the backfield. Marona snakes past a blocker and wraps up Smith. Another defender comes in to clean up the tackle and connects with Marona’s head instead of Smith.But then Marona’s memory gets fuzzy. He closes his eyes and winces as he tries to tell the rest but can’t find the right words. “Dazed” and “rattled” come to mind but don’t describe the feeling well enough.He says he felt his brain hit the side of his skull. That his head felt like a shaken-up snow globe. That the world was blurry before his head smacked into the grass field — ending one journey on the spot and, in time, starting another.The breakfast burrito he’d been munching on at Lucky Boy Drive-In in Pasadena is now getting cold in front of him and he takes a deep breath before cracking a half smile.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“That was a terrible, terrible feeling,” Marona said. “The concussion that ends your football career shouldn’t be easy to describe, I guess.“Sometimes I wonder, ‘What if that hadn’t happened?’ and think, ‘Where would I be?’”***Marona played in one game as a defensive end for Syracuse, and it was the August 2013 intra-squad FanFest scrimmage the day before the career-ending concussion in a practice. The rest of his 10 months in Syracuse was spent trying to get back onto the field. Then coping with that not being an option. Then searching for the Tyler Marona who’d never put on pads again.That Marona is now a left-handed junior pitcher for Providence Christian College in Pasadena, and is an encouraging anecdote in the ongoing concussions narrative.In November, NBA star LeBron James said his kids aren’t allowed to play football. In January, the NFL reported 202 diagnosed concussions in the 2014 season, down 27 from 2013 but still a substantial number. On March 17, 24-year-old NFL linebacker Chris Borland retired due to fear of potential brain damage.But with a history of sub-concussive injuries before the knockout punch, Marona was forced out of the game before his 20th birthday and placed his health and future above his NFL aspirations.I was scared to stop playing because it was what I knew and how I identified, but I really was putting my life in danger to keep playing. I would put on my helmet and there were just no barriers on the field. Now it’s just a different field, and I realize it was for the best and I want other young athletes to know there is another side.Tyler Marona***After the concussion, tests by the Syracuse medical staff produced what Marona called “unreadable results.” They wanted him to respond to treatment within a week and he didn’t. But he was going to work until his body and coaches told him not to.Brigham Young was the only Division I football program to offer him out of high school, so he went to Pasadena City Community College to try and draw interest from the power conferences. After one season there, he had offers from Tennessee, Miami (Florida) and Maryland, among a handful of other schools, and didn’t try out for the Pasadena City baseball team because football recruiting was so hectic.Playing for Syracuse became his dream on his official visit — he liked the coaches, the school and left with a hangover he still laughs about — and Marona wasn’t going to roll over until he took the field for the Orange.“To that point I hadn’t achieved what I set out to do,” he said.In the weeks after the concussion that August, Marona lost weight and the drive to try and eat it back on. SU defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said he’d benefit from bumping up to 275 pounds, so Marona compensated for his lack of appetite by living in the weight room. As a result, his knees cracked when he woke up and his shoulders felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets because of the muscle he’d built.Still, he pushed.But in the two weeks leading up to SU’s family weekend game against Wake Forest on Nov. 2, Marona’s headaches worsened. He lost some dexterity in his fingers and it became difficult to type and text. At times, his vision blurred.His parents traveled eight hours to Syracuse the day before the game and the three of them were called into Syracuse head athletic trainer Denny Kellington’s office. Jonathan Marona, his father, thought it was just going to be an update from Kellington but then SU head coach Scott Shafer walked in. Then the rest of the staff, and that’s when Jonathan realized it was serious.Shafer asked Marona how he was doing and Marona told him he thought he was close to being back.“This is the hardest part of the job…” Jonathan remembers Shafer started.The Maronas started crying.It was over.In a second, everything he always dreamed of was taken away… A lot of kids, this happens to them and then what do they do? They have nothing to do all day. It was fortunate that he had something to replace it.Chuck Bullough***After retiring from football, Marona helped out Syracuse’s recruiting staff and declared a finance major in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, but still felt like something was missing.Syracuse offensive tackle Michael Lasker Jr., his best friend and former roommate, and former SU defensive lineman Trevon Trejo did everything with Marona together, including frequenting Syracuse women’s ice hockey games, to occupy his mind and time.As Lasker put it, Marona was “just sort of depressed and not like himself.”“We’d talk and he’d mention baseball,” Lasker said. “I didn’t know how serious he was or how good he was. But he would bring it up once in a while.”At the end of the academic year, Marona went back to Pasadena with the intention of returning to Syracuse in the fall. Then he was watching baseball on TV a few days later and a 6-foot-4 lefty named Tyler Skaggs took the mound for the Los Angeles Angels.Marona, who is also 6 feet, 4 inches and throws left-handed, saw Skaggs as a sign. He immediately texted some of his friends playing Division I baseball and they told him to come play on their summer league team.The team’s coach, Mike Scolinos, was also the head coach at Providence Christian (California) College and after seeing Marona’s arm as an outfielder he told him he could possibly get drafted as a pitcher. Marona had a partial scholarship to Providence Christian within the month.“I saw him throw a football 50 yards and it was slightly deflated,” Scolinos said. “Most people, even really good pitchers, can’t throw a slightly deflated football 50 yards.”When Marona first started working with Scolinos, the pitching guru identified him as a “long-term project.” He had the arm strength but hadn’t been taught any mechanics, and Scolinos said in mid-March that he is just starting to see Marona really develop as a starter.But Marona has embraced the learning curve — he played outfield in high school — and it’s filled football’s void.I have noticed a change in him since he’s started playing baseball. I think today he wishes he could play football again but he knows the price is too high and he has a life to live. He says life’s not over, it’s just a different phase. He’s not even 21 yet.Jonathan MaronaAs Marona continues to add to his velocity while delving deeper into the science of pitching sequences, he’s also retooled his mental approach.Before football games, Marona would sometimes tell teammates to punch him in the face to get his adrenaline even higher — even though none of them ever did. Now he sits in the dugout for up to a week in between pitching appearances and has no choice but to calmly approach the mound. In football his goal was to sack the quarterback and his mistakes were often hard to see. Now one misplaced pitch can change a game.On Saturday, Lasker and Trejo chatted on the sideline of Syracuse’s annual spring game but the third member of their crew was more than 2,600 miles away, watching his team wrap up a win over Bristol with his parents in the stands.Later in the day, Marona met with a scout from the Angels about his future. Maybe seeing himself in Skaggs wasn’t so far off.***Pasadena, with a flat landscape where the palm trees are taller than the buildings, is the polar opposite of Syracuse.“This is the California life,” Marona says, watching cars race down Arroyo Parkway while a light breeze cools the 70-degree air.But he makes sure that Syracuse isn’t lost on the West Coast.It’s just after 1 p.m. in early March and he’s getting in a late breakfast before a bullpen session at the Providence Christian field. He’s wearing a gray SU football shirt and blue Syracuse football shorts with his old number, 92, hovering right above his left knee. He’s also wearing a Washington Nationals hat, which he bought after going to see the Syracuse Chiefs, a Triple-A affiliate of the Nationals.He gets halfway up the street to his car and turns as if he’s forgotten something. It’s important. He lightly jogs back.“I think life can be a b*tch when you’re young, you have no cash and you’re trying to figure things out,” Marona said. “But when I have that career and family and everything, I’m going to be really glad I made that decision because life and time, they’re so important.”Then he walks back up the block. Back to life after football. Commentslast_img read more

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