On the day he committed to play football at Kansas, Andre Maloney worked a night shift at a local grocery store.
Andre never really told his family what he did there, and to this day, his cousin, Karla Montoya, still isn’t sure. Some days, she says, Andre might have been working in the store deli. Other days, it was sacking groceries.
It was a simple part-time job: a high school football star trying to make a few dollars on the side, and it was just like Andre. Play sports, ponder his future, then quietly hustle to do more work.
“Andre wanted to be independent,” says Tim Callaghan, Andre’s football coach at Shawnee Mission West. “He didn’t want his mother to have to worry about him.”
For Andre, 17, that meant a scholarship and a promise. On June 19, when he sat in Kansas coach Charlie Weis’ office, Andre, a soon-to-be senior, was one of the most coveted players in the Kansas City area. K-State wanted him. So did Missouri.
But here was Weis, offering something that the others couldn’t: A chance to play 40 minutes from his mother, Rosaelida.
“I never knew football could help me in a financial way,” Andre wrote in a school essay during the first months of his senior year. “ My mom was so proud of me. I felt really glad because my mom doesn’t have to pay for college.”
All across America, these are the stories that can make National Signing Day the pinnacle for any high school senior. On Wednesday, thousands of young athletes will sign college letters of intent, living out dreams and charting futures.
But inside the halls of Shawnee Mission West, and down the road at Kansas, something will be missing. Something that has nothing to do with football.
“The smile,” Callaghan says.
“Andre was the Pied Piper,” says Tim Grunhard, the former KU assistant who recruited Andre to Kansas.
“Andre had a lot of potential to be someone,” Montoya says. And if it wasn’t for what had happened, he would have.”
This is the Andre they remember.
On the day before he died, Andre Maloney was selling cookies at school to raise money for breast cancer research. When KU offensive line coach Tim Grunhard called that day to check in on one of his top recruits, Andre was cleaning up.
“He was all excited because he made $4 at the bake sale,” Grunhard says.
It was a Thursday in October, and SM West, the defending Kansas 6A state champions, had a game that night. Two days later, Andre planned on attending Kansas’ home game against Texas Tech, so Grunhard called to handle the ticket request.
They couldn’t see what would happen in the next few hours, and really, who could? The stroke that felled Andre after he’d hauled in a 63-yard touchdown catch. The blood clot that couldn’t be controlled, causing Andre to slip into a coma. The next day, when friends and family filed into Andre’s hospital room at Research Medical Center to say goodbye.
On that Friday morning, as Andre was still battling for his life, updates began to filter into the KU football offices. By close to 6 a.m., Weis reached Callaghan.
No matter what happens, Weis told Callaghan, Andre will have a scholarship to KU.
“A million things are going through your head,” Weis says, “dying isn’t one you’re really counting on.”
On his Twitter page, Andre often wrote three letters: M.I.B. — “Making it big.” It was the stuff of a kid’s imagination, but when you had Andre’s charisma, it felt honest.
Andre was like so many other kids. He grew up playing soccer. He idolized NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Had a mother who worried about football injuries.
He and Karla, his cousin, were like brother and sister. Andre was born in Texas, but then moved to Kansas City, where he and Karla lived in the same house, raised by his mother and grandmother.
The KU coaches never found out, Karla says, but Andre had grown up a Texas fan. The burnt orange. Vince Young. All that tradition. So Karla was a little surprised when Andre showed so much interest in Kansas.
Maybe she shouldn’t have been. On one of Andre’s visits to Kansas, defensive coordinator Dave Campo, a former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, told Andre that he’d coached Deion Sanders. Andre liked that.
He also liked being so close to his mother. Karla had spent her freshman year at KU. The family could drive 40 minutes to watch him play.
“I think what touched him more was that these were home coaches,” Karla says. “They have families here, and they have stories and they know Kansas.”
A few days before Andre Maloney would have signed to play at Kansas, Charlie Weis sat in his office. He looked at the chair where Andre once sat.
On that day last June, Weis looked at Andre and told him he could be a front-line cornerback in the Big 12.
“Coach,” Andre said. “I like to have the ball in my hands.”
It was the kind of response that Weis loved.
“He played with a chip on his shoulder,” Weis says. “He was cocky. As a corner, you kind of need to have that in you to be any good.”
Nearly four months after Andre died, those that knew him well are still trying to manage and cope.
Karla Montoya is planning a summer seven-on-seven tournament in Andre’s honor. Weis still believes that Andre could have been a great one. A shutdown cornerback. Maybe even a playmaker as a wildcat quarterback. Grunhard left his job at KU, thinking of his four high school-aged kids.
“It affected me to the point, where I kind of said: What am I doing here?” Grunhard says.
And back at SM West, Callaghan has planned something special for the school’s signing day ceremony. In the weeks after Andre died, the Vikings slogged through an emotional finish to the season.
The victories weren’t always there, Callaghan says, but they needed those games to heal. The SM West seniors had 12 players who were supposed to play college football. So Callaghan will bring KU pens for the remaining 11. Together, they will sign to play college football, moving forward together.
“I want them to think about him,” Callaghan says. “No matter where they go, I want them to take a little of Andre with them.”