Max O’Rourke is pain free now, which also makes him stress free.
He can torque his hips while kicking a football without jolts of pain shooting down his right leg. He also can run again, a far cry from two years ago when there were initial fears that he might not walk again without a hitch.
After O’Rourke drilled a 27-yard field goal to lift visiting American River College past Fresno City 38-35 in double overtime on Saturday night, the freshman kicker threw his arms up triumphantly, then bolted. He sprinted for joy, but kickers aren’t the fastest guys. He was cornered and mobbed by Beavers teammates, hailed the team hero of the hour and handed extra pieces of Popeyes Chicken on a jubilant bus ride home.
Welcome back, kid.
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“I was super stoked to do that,” O’Rourke said of the game winner. “I feel like I’m officially back, a football player again. I never kicked a game winner like that. I started running the other direction to celebrate before I felt someone grab me and pick me up, and the whole team was there. Just awesome.”
O’Rourke does that. He attracts a crowd.
When O’Rourke suffered a grisly broken femur – the thigh bone – while playing quarterback for Rocklin High School in 2014, the region rallied behind him. Area programs flooded his school with get-well cards. O’Rourke’s plight made national news.
What appeared to be a routine tackle in a game against rival Del Oro was much worse. O’Rourke, in agony, convinced the paramedics to let him watch the rest of the game from the back of an ambulance. The location of the break concerned physicians, who discovered a fluid-filled tumor in his hip joint.
From a broken leg to a sudden cancer scare, O’Rourke stayed uncommonly poised, unlike his frantic parents. O’Rourke, from his hospital bed, contemplated what sort of cool cane he could use on campus.
The tumor was benign, the surgery a success, and O’Rourke slowly learned to walk without a gait. He was in a wheelchair for a month and on crutches for seven weeks. He attended the Rocklin prom and the senior ball, and his slight limp made his dancing all the more bearable to watch. He has a plate inside his leg with two screws – serious hardware – and scars for a lifetime.
Despite O’Rourke’s plight, Boise State offered him a chance to walk on in 2015. O’Rourke accepted, but when he arrived he didn’t feel right.
“I was never fully healthy in Boise, not near the full strength I needed to be,” O’Rourke said. “The pain on a kick would go straight into the hip, where the break happened. Shooting pain, and then I’d feel pretty sore. It was hard.”
O’Rourke returned home to get stronger, to start fresh with ARC. And he pushed away thoughts that his football days might be over. The arm works just fine, too. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound O’Rourke has completed four passes, including a touchdown, as ARC likes to rotates quarterbacks.
In the Beavers’ season opener against Diablo Valley, O’Rourke missed two field goals and an extra point, and he kicked himself for allowing the game, won by ARC 23-20, to come down to the wire. O’Rourke made all five extra points against Fresno and had six kickoffs for 345 yards, an average of 57.5 yards.
“It’s great to have the leg behind me, to feel normal again,” O’Rourke said.
Said ARC coach Jon Osterhout: “Max is doing an excellent job. He certainly has the ‘it’ factor, and I saw that after his injury, being pushed around in a wheelchair by teammates with headsets on, coaching and leading the fire out of his teammates. He has a ton of guts, is great in the locker room and is a tremendous kicker.”