Sports can be cruel sometimes.
There are no guaranteed happy endings, no matter how hard an athlete works to get it.
For Portage's Anthony Maceo, it's happened not once, but twice during a senior year that started off so magically for the electric Indians quarterback and wrestler.
There was arguably no single player in the Region who was more crucial to his team's success than Portage's No. 3. Maceo ran and passed the Indians to five wins and a berth in the Class 6A Sectional 1 final. Unfortunately, as those of us outside the loop found out that night, the elusive signal caller suffered a Grade 3 shoulder separation in the postseason opener against Lake Central. He gave it a go versus Crown Point, but wasn't remotely close to the game-changing player he was before.
"It's hard to play when your collarbone is separated from your shoulder blade," Maceo said. "I couldn't even do the throwing rotation. But I wasn't going to quit on the team. It was time to man up."
Portage lost 14-7 and the guy who accounted for 2,372 yards was a non-factor.
"If my shoulder was better, I believe the game would have been different," Maceo said. "We would've won."
A state qualifier in wrestling, Maceo was going to take the winter off to heal and work out with an eye on college football, but Portage wrestling coach Leroy Vega convinced him to give it a shot, that he would be an integral part of a team with state title aspirations.
"Football's my No. 1 sport. I love it," Maceo said. "I didn't want to hurt myself and put myself in jeopardy, but I was into (wrestling)."
Able to avoid surgery, Maceo got his shoulder back in working order through rest and rehab. He was medically cleared to return to the mat and made his debut at the team duals tournament in late December. He lost 3-1 to Avon's Aaron Conde and was supposed to wrestle in the third-place match with Evansville Mater Dei, but his shoulder balked and he didn't.
Maceo wouldn't wrestle again, the result of 'a mix of things.' First and foremost, it was the emergence of Jacob Bondon as a strong performer at 195 pounds. Maceo's return was also hampered by a case of impetigo.
"I have to give it (Bondon)," Maceo said. "He's been great. He works hard. He's a good athlete. He's a fighter. He does what he has to do."
Still, Maceo can't help but feel a little bit like the odd man out on a loaded roster where the No. 2s could and have beaten plenty of teams.
"I'm not in top-notch shape, but if I was still competing, I would be on the (state awards) podium," he said. "I'm a little disappointed. It's tough because if I had gotten the chance, I think I still had it in me. I can't do anything about it."
While the end results of his senior year certainly weren't ideal, Maceo has no regrets.
"It didn't end the way I wanted, but I'm glad for the things I did for Portage," he said. "I did my best every Friday night. I gave 100 percent on the field and wrestled my hardest."
The focus now returns to football for Maceo, who is being recruited as a running back. He said he's been accepted to Valparaiso University and is hopeful that the chance to do his thing for the Crusaders or somebody else will come together for him.
"Hopefully, you haven't heard the last of me," Maceo said.
We hope so, too.