LAWRENCE — Scoring a touchdown Thursday by slipping behind the defense, hauling in a pass and crossing the goal line untouched was Andre Maloney’s last football play.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
But it wasn’t his final act.
Maloney, who died Friday evening, spent his final hours bringing people together as he lay in a vegetative state at Research Medical Center after doctors couldn’t remove a blood clot from his brain.
They honored and paid tribute to the 17-year-old student and athlete from Shawnee Mission West whom most didn’t know personally. But as the news grew more disbelieving dire on Friday, the grief and sorrow crossed so many communities, including at KU, where Maloney had committed to play next season.
Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis had a lot of explaining to do after Saturday’s 54-16 home loss to Texas Tech, a performance that stands with KU’s worst during his 1 1/2-year watch. Weis gave answers for a blown fake punt, lousy center-quarterback exchanges and too many penalties, which added up to a mostly non-competitive effort.
But those points were addressed only after he spoke of Maloney, and Weis was careful not to blend the issues of the game with the experience of the previous 48 hours.
“Not so much as a coach, but as a dad and loving parent, it’s a nightmare, a true tragedy,” Weis said. “Everyone feels that way, but I have a little different feeling toward my kids, meaning my team. When a player’s either on my team or committed to be on my team I believe part of my responsibility is to be like a dad to them.
“I don’t try to be their dad, but like a dad. Anything that happens pains me, but not like this.”
Not like this. Heartbreak spread across area high school games Friday night, many opening with a moment of silence, as Kansas did Saturday. At Shawnee Mission South, in the same stadium where Maloney played the previous night, some South students wore West colors and “Pray for Dre” T-shirts.
St. Thomas Aquinas coach Mike Thomas made sure Maloney and his family were included in the team’s prayer before the Saints’ game against Blue Valley North.
Grandview athletic director Steve Robertson stood on the school’s blue track during the second quarter of its game against Raytown South and ran down the checklist of concerns for administrators during a school event.
Told what happened Thursday — Maloney jogged back to the bench after a long touchdown reception, couldn’t raise his arm to offer a teammate a high five, then stumbled and collapsed — Robertson stared down at the track and shook his head.
Shock ran through the college football recruiting community. Maloney was a major prospect and those who follow the paths of star high school players communicated through social media.
Maloney had his lists of college finalists, his favorites, and eventually selected Kansas. But fans of rivals and other schools knew only that this was a 17-year-old who scored a touchdown on Thursday evening and was losing the battle for his life on Friday morning, and the condolences filled the message boards.
After three hours of surgery proved unsuccessful, family and teammates were allowed into Maloney’s room Friday to say goodbye. Weis remained in contact with the hospital and family members but remained in Lawrence, believing his presence would be too much of a distraction.
During his postgame news conference Saturday, Weis was asked a final question about players who had written “APU,” which stands for All Players United, on part of their uniform. It’s part of small protest movement by some players calling attention to issues that impact athletes, such as compensation and concussions.
Weis said he didn’t see that, but he did notice a player had written R.I.P. on his uniform.
“I’d have a tough time faulting him for that,” Weis said.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.