In the middle of a bleak beginning for the Tim Brewster era at the helm of Gopher Football, one Minnesota star heeded the call to take up the task of helping the program rebuild and move towards a promising future.
These days, however, Sam Maresh will look towards health before contemplation of suiting up in maroon and gold.
Maresh, the top in-state recruit for Brewster's 2008 recruiting class that ranked in the Top 25 nationally, will have to forgo football for now, as he must have open-heart surgery to repair or replace his aortic valve.
As first reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on June 10, Maresh's surgery was scheduled for June 26. Two days separate Maresh from the rest of his life and, hopefully, an illustrious career.
Either way, most of the state will have this strong and daring kid in their thoughts.
Brewster, unflinching in his support of Maresh, states that Sam will still carry the program into the dramatic next phase of the shift towards legitimacy. The Champlin Park High School graduate will bring the Gophers into their new friendly confines as the flag carrier for their entrance into TCF Bank Stadium, the new, lavish on-campus stadium for the football program.
"Either in pads or in street clothes, he will be carrying the flag," Brewster claimed at the press conference announcing's Maresh's condition.
At 6'3" and a muscle-bound 225 pounds, Maresh was a force in the middle for Champlin Park HS in Champlin, MN, just Northwest of the Twin Cities. He was a Top 250 HS Senior and a four-star rated recruit, according to Rivals.com.
After leaving his first official visit to the campus in April 2007, Sam asked his father, Bill, to turn around, knowing full well that the University of Minnesota was the place for him.
Brewster was so ecstatic from Maresh's commitment, according to Gopher football beat writer Chip Scoogins, that, amidst the celebration of his announcement to the team, Brewster grabbed Sam's dad and wrapped him up in a bear hug that had the elder Maresh off the ground.
During a 1-11 season mired in inescapable obstacles for Brewster's young team and coaching staff, it was the knowledge of quick reinforcements, most notably Maresh, that brought hope.
The Signing Day-announced recruits included six other Rivals four-star recruits, most notably Dallas (TX) Skyline safety Keanon Cooper and Indianapolis (IN) Ben Davis quarterback MarQueis Gray, a U.S. Army All-American.
While a fruitful life post-surgery seems likely, Maresh has a chance as pursuing his dream of being on the field for the leaps Brewster aims to take the program.
Former Gonzaga forward Ronny Turiaf, Sam's equal in high character and skill, was also forced to endure open-heart surgery, his for an enlarged heart. This year's NBA Finals were a good showcase of Ronny's life after a life- and career-threatening health complication, as Turiaf made it back as an integral role player for the Western Conference Champion Lakers.
Turiaf was poised as a low and high post defender against the likes of Kevin Garnett, shadowing the former NBA MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year with his tenacious defense.
Another example of a healthy post-surgery life is current Minnesota Timberwolves Assistant GM Fred Hoiberg. While a guard on the Timberwolves, Hoiberg also had complications with his aorta, forcing surgery.
While the NBA veteran was forced to cut his career short, he now has his health and looks back at his own situation and Maresh's with a view of being fortunate—for his health and the fact that, in Sam's case, the problem was caught.
In two days, Sam will be at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN under the care of Dr. Hartzell Schaff, a Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery specialist with his M.D. from the University of Oklahoma and residencies and fellowships at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and who is one of the nation's best and most experienced cardiac surgeons.
Maresh is undoubtedly in great care from not only the Mayo clinic surgeons and staff, but also his inner circle of family and friends. Whether or not he'll be making it back to the gridiron is anyone's guess, but I know better than to root against this kid, and he'll be in my thoughts and prayers—and I hope he is in yours as well.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Rivals.com were used as source material for this piece.