Max O’Rourke was the calm one here, composed beyond his years amid tension and uncertainty.
Mike and Erin O’Rourke, his parents? Frantic to the point of tears.
The Rocklin High School senior quarterback experienced a gamut of emotions Friday night and well into the weekend, well beyond taking on chief rival Del Oro in a pressure-cooker Sierra Foothill League game. But humor sustained him, easing the profound misery of having a season of great promise end because of a broken femur. The telling line that punctuated O’Rourke’s good spirit, from his hospital bed at UC Davis Medical Center, was how cool it would be to have a cane, to transition from non-walker to full-fledged athlete again – in style.
And he insisted Saturdayfrom that bed that his parents channel their concern into something constructive, namely, searching for said cane.
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“Oh my,” Mike, his father said, catching his breath and fighting back emotions. “That’s Max. We’re worried, and he’s talking about how he’s always wanted a cane. He’s so calm. We’re the parents and we’re a mess. Max has been like that since he was 6 years old, just extra kind of special.”
O’Rourke’s teammates and coaches mirror similar sentiment. Enjoying an MVP-like season in leading the undefeated Thunder to its best six-game record since its 14-1 CIF State Bowl team of 2009, O’Rourke went down early in the fourth quarter in a pile-up. He knew something was seriously wrong when he couldn’t extend his right leg or put any weight on it.
“And that’s when it really started to scare me,” O’Rourke recalled Saturday morning from his hospital room.
It was the location of the break that especially alarmed doctors when he arrived at Sutter Roseville Hospital late Friday, and this came after he convinced the paramedics on the Rocklin football field to allow him to watch the rest of the game from the back of the ambulance. O’Rourke watched backup William Floyd lead a last-minute rally with a touchdown pass to Wesley Preece to beat the Golden Eagles 18-15.
A fluid-filled tumor was discovered at the hip joint, which weakened the joint enough to allow the break. O’Rourke was transferred to the UC Davis facility in Sacramento late Friday night. Doctors there informed the O’Rourke family they are confident the tumor is benign, though extensive tests will bear more conclusive results. O’Rourke is scheduled for surgery Monday, to have a rod inserted into his leg.
In a matter of hours, O’Rourke went from despair to understanding that this may, in fact, have been a very fortunate break. Who knows when that tumor might have been discovered, or how bad it could’ve become?
“Very emotional, from devastation to worry to everything in between,” O’Rourke said. “It’s the first broken bone I’ve had. I’m upset and distraught that this all happened right as the team and I were really coming together. But the tumor and break, it’s a blessing in disguise.”
Said Mike, his father, “We’ve gone from sheer disappointment, to this tumor probably being benign, to suddenly being the happiest parents in the world.”
Doctors told O’Rourke they expect a full recovery. He was so encouraged by that prognosis he wonders if he can return in time for Rocklin’s basketball postseason. It’s a long shot, to be sure, but who would dare set any extra obstacles for O’Rourke now?
“For now, I’ll be a coach and leader for my teammates and get healthy,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke and ambition go hand-in-hand. A student with a 4.2 grade-point average has attracted interest from Ivy League programs. He’d like to study business or law, or a combination of both. Rocklin coach Greg Benzel said O’Rourke someday may be running a company, “he’s that sharp.”
Added Benzel on Saturday after visiting with O’Rourke until late Friday night, “He is such an inspiration. Pretty special guy.”
Said Rocklin teammate Garrett Kauppila, “We are inspired by Max and what he has to offer each and every day. It’s awful that this happened. I couldn’t celebrate (our win) without him by our side.”
And that O’Rourke cane humor?
“Of course, he’s an optimist!” Kauppila said.
And that cane logic?
“I might as well look good,” O’Rourke said. “Might as well get a top hat and a monocle and just go full Mr. Peanut. I’m all positive now.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.