The Lake High graduate is less than 1,000 yards away from breaking the school's career rushing record

Matt Blasiole started last season in an apron and ended it in a cast.

The Malone running back entered his senior year needing 1,011 yards to overtake Dan DeGeorge (3,111 career yards) for the school's career rushing record.

To get there, he knew he wasn’t the only one who needed to be fed.

“I baked cookies and brownies for all my offensive linemen,” said Blasiole, who played for DeGeorge at Lake High School. “I told them, if you help me reach my goal, I’ll buy you all dinner after the season.

“That was my No. 1 goal. Every single lift, every single training session, that (record) was in my head.”

After getting held in check in the opener against Taylor (11 carries, 9 yards), Blasiole seemed poised to make a run at it, rushing for 73 yards in the first 20 minutes of a Week 2 game against Shaw.

Then, on a 1-yard carry early in the second quarter, everything changed.

“I remember being dragged out of bounds,” he said. “I got hit up top and my foot stuck in the ground and hyperextended, and then I just remember feeling a pop.”

Blasiole looked up at the trainers and said, “I think I tore my ACL." But after performing an X-ray on the field, they thought it was either a knee sprain or a bone bruise.

Blasiole wasn’t convinced.

“I had two doctors, a physical therapist and a trainer all telling me it was fine, but I was in so much pain,” he said. “Throughout the game, I couldn’t stand up and walk on it. I was like, ‘This has to be more than a bone bruise.’”

He was right. A week later, his worst fears were realized: his ACL was torn and his season was over.

For Malone coach Fred Thomas, this was bad news for two reasons. One, he was losing his best running back for the season. Two, he might be losing losing him forever.

“I didn’t know where his mind was at,” said Thomas, who was just starting his second season was the Pioneers’ head coach. “But when he said he wanted to come back (for a fifth year), it made me feel like maybe we’re doing some good things around here. We’re trying to turn this thing around and we need people like him to stay.”

Added Blasiole, “There was not even a second thought in my head. I could have gone other places, but I personally came here to help change things. My freshman and sophomore year, it didn’t feel like we were going anywhere, but this new coaching staff gave me the confidence that we were getting this program turned around.”

After going 1-8 in 2016 with a pair of exhibition game victories, Thomas entered the 2017 season with a more talented team. Problem was, it also was extremely young. And with Blasiole out, the Pioneers were merely good enough to compete with most of the teams on their schedule. They weren’t good enough to beat them.

Malone finished 1-9 last fall, losing four of those games by a touchdown or less as opposing defenses shifted their game plans to stop the Pioneers’ best remaining offensive player (wide receiver Ashton Dulin). Although Malone’s other running backs showed promise — freshman Xavier Garland rushed for 415 yards and freshman Jayvon Hilton added 117 — the Pioneers’ run-first offense was forced to throw far too often. Things only got worse when the starting quarterback, John Iacucci, missed the final five games because of an injury.

“Oh my gosh, there were so many games when I was watching them thinking, ‘I could have helped,’” Blasiole said. “The running backs that stepped in did a great job and they helped the team the best they could, but we had a lot of offensive injuries last year. It was not fun.”

The good news is, Dulin and Iacucci are both back next season, giving Thomas hope his team can be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. To do that, he'll need a healthy Blasiole, who said his knee is now at about 90 percent. He’s been able to do all of Malone's non-contact drills during spring practice and is eyeing a big year in 2018.

“It’s crazy how easy it is nowadays to repair an ACL,” said Blasiole, who is on track to graduate this spring with his undergraduate degree in business/accounting and will begin work on his MBA next semester. “It’s just another injury. The rehab is rough, but they know exactly what they’re doing. The first three months are terrible, but eventually my knee started feeling better.”

Blasiole knows some people might question why he would want to put another year of wear and tear on his body for a Division II team with a 3-37 record over the past four seasons, but there’s a simple reason for that.

 

“I’ve been playing football my whole life; I’m not ready to give it up,” said Blasiole, the 2013 Federal League Player of the Year. “Not one time did I think about quitting football. What brings me back is this coaching staff and the great teammates I have here.”

Plus, that rushing record is only 927 yards away — and there’s one guy rooting hard for him to break it: DeGeorge.

“Matt is 10 times better as a football player than I ever was,” DeGeorge said. “I was lucky to run behind a great offensive line that did all of the work. Matt deserves that record and any other recognition that comes his way. He is an excellent football player but more importantly he’s a great young man. I’m very proud of him.”

 

Reach Joe at 330-580-8573 or

joe.scalzo@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jscalzoREP