LAWRENCE, Kan. — He was all about the front of the jersey. Call up Andre Maloney’s photo gallery on Scout.com, and the first picture is of a young man in a white “KANSAS FOOTBALL” shirt, wearing it proudly, Red Raiders 54, Jayhawks 16 be damned. So proudly, he’s pulling the letters “KANSAS” out past his chest with two hands, the way players do on the basketball court when they know the world is watching.
The way he might’ve very well done at Memorial Stadium, given time. Given a chance.
“It’s not so much as a coach, (but) as a dad and loving parent, that is a nightmare,” Kansas football coach Charlie Weis said, his voice slow and weary. “A true tragedy.”
On Thursday night, Maloney scored on a 63-yard touchdown catch for Shawnee Mission West.
On Friday night, he was gone.
There’s nothing in the coaching manual for that. No formula, no answers.
No sense, either.
Maloney, a 6-foot-2 receiver at West — a three-star prospect and, by all accounts, a five-star kid — had suffered a stroke Thursday during a 37-34 loss to Leavenworth. By now, you’ve probably heard the narrative: The 17-year-old had scored untouched, went over for a drink of water on the sidelines and collapsed.
Just like that. No warning. Nothing.
A blood clot in the brain, doctors said. For hours, they’d tried to stem the tide; ultimately, physicians at Kansas City’s Research Medical Center were unable to remove the clot.
Friday morning, a young man who’d committed on June 20 to play football for Weis at KU, remained in a vegetative state. Family, friends, teammates visited to pay their respects.
Later that night, he died.
There was a moment of silence before the Jayhawks’ Homecoming loss to Texas Tech in Maloney’s honor. Weis spent several moments after the contest trying to explain the cruel and inexplicable.
“Friday morning, I was on top of what was happening,” Weis said of Maloney, who’d received offers from Kansas State, Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Tulsa before committing to the Jayhawks over the summer. “And ain’t it a shame, the first question I had to (ask compliance) is, ‘Am I allowed to go?’ So we kind of went back and forth on that one right there.”
It was a crazy, conflicted afternoon of awful, compounded by more awful after more awful. The Jayhawks went up 10-0 on the 20th-ranked Red Raiders, then surrendered 54 straight points. Tech ran 100 plays, gaining 518 yards along the way. The hosts turned it over four times and racked up 185 yards of penalties. KU punter Trevor Pardula got the green light to run a fake from his own 16-yard-line on 4th-and-13 while the game was tied at 10-apiece. (He was forced out of bounds for no gain; Tech scored two plays later.) The crowd — at Homecoming, no less — was officially listed at a sparse 25,648, and that number seemed to pass the eye test.
But that wasn’t the whole story, the whole misery. That wasn’t why Weis looked as if he’d aged a decade in three hours flat.
“It was not good,” Weis said of Maloney. “Come early Friday morning, it was not good.
“So when I went to bed late Thursday night, I didn’t know the magnitude of what we were dealing with. We’re talking early Friday morning, at 5 o’clock, it was already not good. We decided (that) going to the hospital (would) be more of a distraction than a help.”
Besides, what can you do? What can you possibly say? What can anybody?
“It is saddening to hear,” Jayhawk tight end Jimmy Mundine said. “But (Weis) used it as a motivational factor in the sense that he really would’ve been a guy on the team next year. So when you think about guys like (safety) Cassius (Sendish), that just got here. If you think about them not being here next year, not being here this year — it would be really weird to imagine them not being here.
“So obviously, it’s hard to deal with. But guys on the team, everyone has their own reasons they’re playing for, and it’s just added fuel to the fire.”
This flame burned bright. Burned deep. Maloney excelled as a receiver, a return ace, a cornerback, and as a “Wildcat” quarterback who had helped the Vikings win a state title for the first time since 1985. He posted a 4.34 clip in the 40-yard dash, according to Scout.com.
So much promise, so many pages to fill, and the pen runs dry.
“We had to put two people on him, just so he didn’t burn our whole team,” Joe Dineen, a senior at Lawrence Free State High and a fellow KU commit, had written Friday on his Twitter feed. “What a great player. I’m sure they have a football for you up there.”
They had one for him here, too. It’s the stolen moments, the ones we’ll never get to see, that break your heart into a billion little pieces.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org