5/21/2013 Reivers Playing Summer Baseball
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5/15/2013 NJCAA National Softball Tournament Games
IWCC's Maresh Tackling Latest Challenge
By Tony Boone, Senior Writer
It should come as no surprise that when Iowa Western needed a final defensive stop in its biggest football game to date, the redshirt freshman linebacker was there to make a play... four of them, actually.
When a man has bounced back from open-heart surgery to play college football, making three tackles and a game-saving pass break-up against a prolific offense in the final seconds seems like child’s play.
Maresh’s performance in the 15-12 win over then-No. 5 Grand Rapids (Mich.), which was averaging 47 points per game, helped vault the Reivers into a top-five NJCAA ranking while placing the former Big Ten recruit in the spotlight he seemed to have lost not so long ago.
It was the beginning of a new chapter for a one-time, can’t-miss prospect whose up-and-down story is still waiting for an ending. Its final outcome rests solely with Maresh, who has proven before that he can’t be counted out when things are at their worst.
Maresh, the son of Bill and Julie Maresh, was an outstanding prep athlete at Champlain Park High School in Minnesota. In addition to being an all-state linebacker who made 99 tackles in 11 games his senior season, he was a three-time state wrestling champion – twice as an undersized heavyweight.
Blessed with speed and size, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Maresh – whose older brother, Mike, was a four-year starter at linebacker for North Dakota State – was tabbed a four-star prospect by the Rivals recruiting service. Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all came through with scholarship offers.
Maresh chose to stay nearby.
“I thought Minnesota was the best fit for me,” he said. “I was close to home.”
Maresh left for campus in the summer of 2008, but he never made it to the football field. During a routine preparticipation physical on June 2, a murmur caused by a congenital heart defect was discovered.
He underwent open-heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., 26 days later. His aortic valve had been replaced, but his future in football was uncertain.
Six months after the operation, Maresh was cleared to resume athletic activities. He followed through with his plan to attend Minnesota, enrolling for the spring 2009 semester with the intention of playing football with the Golden Gophers right away.
Maresh came as a grayshirt, meaning he was paying his own way to not use any of his collegiate eligibility. He was prepared to begin spring drills with Minnesota, but a pain in his left calf quickly interrupted his time on the gridiron. The cause was a growth in his lower leg, originally thought to be a tumor but eventually found to be noncancerous.
“Maybe God doesn’t want me to play football,” Maresh recalled telling his father as they returned to the Mayo Clinic for a biopsy. He elected to play through the pain, which subsided a short time later, as he returned to competition.
Twice Maresh had been told he might never play football again, yet he was back on the field.
“It was tough. I was 19 years old hearing all that stuff,” Maresh said. “I’m not supposed to have any health problems. It was tough to deal with, but the support of my family and friends really got me through it.”
His courageous battle made the freshman linebacker a fan favorite. When Minnesota opened its new TCF Bank Stadium last fall, Maresh was chosen to lead the team onto the field while carrying the university’s flag.
The emotional home opener for the Gophers ended up being the highlight of Maresh’s stay at Minnesota. Although he practiced with the team, he never played in a game.
As a redshirt, Maresh wasn’t fully involved in the football season. He found other things to do, but they led him on a path away from the university and Division I football.
Maresh was twice cited for underage drinking. He was also labeled as a suspect in an assault, one he said he witnessed but wasn’t a part of. His name was connected to the incident anyway.
At the same time, his grades were suffering to the point where he was going to be ineligible.
“Unfortunately, I made some poor decisions academically and with some other stuff,” he said. “I put most of the blame on myself. When you get in trouble and put your name out there for the wrong reasons, it’s never a good thing. “I was just kind of careless. Being a college student, I just got kind of caught up in it.”
Maresh’s decisions cost him a spot at the University of Minnesota. Needing credits and a GPA overhaul, he began looking into the possibility of attending a junior college.
While working at a camp at the university, Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier, a Minnesota native, learned of Maresh’s situation. When he returned to his home state for a wedding in the summer, Strohmeier met with Maresh and his parents at Champlin Park High School.
Maresh chose to attend IWCC over Snow (Utah), Hutchinson (Kan.) and Coffeyville (Kan.).
So far, all has gone well for Maresh in Council Bluffs. Strohmeier said his Division I transfer has done everything he’s been asked to do while continuing to work on his academic issues.
In late August, Maresh finally made his long-awaited college football debut. He started at linebacker in IWCC’s 63-6 win over Highland (Kan.) in its opener. It was his first football game since his final prep season in 2007.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” he said. “Before the game, I was a little nervous. I hadn’t played in a year and a half. To be out there and compete with some other opponent was just overwhelming. I kind of felt like a high school kid again.”
Maresh has played like he did as a high school kid, too. Through five games, he’s the Reivers’ leading tackler with 38 total stops. And, of course, he had that clutch performance in IWCC’s win over Grand Rapids.
His play suggests Maresh will be ready to return to big-time college football as soon as he gets his academics squared away. The freshman said he came to Council Bluffs “ready to grow up and take care of my business.”
Time will be the final judge on Maresh. But the talented linebacker understands what’s at stake.
“I realize now that I don’t have another chance after this,” he said. “If I don’t make it here, I’m done. I’m going to buckle down here and be a little more mature in some of my decisions.”