W&J football player Mike Mazza’s sacrifice helps teen in need
Presidents are always looking for ways to give back to their communities. In the past year, stories from current and past students have exemplified that spirit of kindness, with two W&J football players helping facilitate bone marrow transplants for strangers in need and a former player giving his old teammate more time with his family. “We have won a lot of games, captured many championships, and produced numerous All-Americans on the field. I have never been more proud as a coach as I am of these players. What they’ve done far exceeds our wins, championships, and awards,” Football Head Coach Mike Sirianni said.
A phone call in early June 2017 changed everything for Mike Mazza ’18. Earlier in the year, Mazza, like some 200 current and former W&J football players, had registered as a donor through the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, an organization that links college athletes with patients suffering from life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, who are in need of a transplant. That morning in June, a representative from the Andy Talley Foundation told Mazza he was a potential match for an 18-year-old boy in Massachusetts, and that further blood tests would be needed to determine if Mazza could save this anonymous young stranger’s life. Before he could get the bloodwork done, he had to finish that day’s shift at his part-time job at Home Depot. On his way home from work, his day took a turn for the worse: Mazza was in a three-car accident that totaled his car. Miraculously, he walked away with only a few minor injuries, and a determination to do everything he could to help the boy in Massachusetts. “I felt really blessed to walk away, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” Mazza said. “Once I had the goal of helping that kid, I kind of blocked everything else out. You just know this is for a better purpose, and you don’t even let the second thoughts come in.”
Mazza began doing multiple blood tests each month until he was a confirmed match, and he went into surgery for the transplant on Aug. 2, 2017—knowingly sacrificing his ability to play football his senior year. Because of the nature of the operation, Mazza had a long recovery time ahead of him. Initially following the surgery, he could barely walk, and although he was building his strength back up, his recovery process wouldn’t have allowed him to start training with the team until five or six weeks into the season. “I just said, ‘It’s for a better cause,’” Mazza said. “I mean, football is great, but there’s definitely things beyond that, and Coach (Mike Sirianni) always preaches that.”
And while it would have been easy for Mazza to sulk through the football season about his personal loss, he chose to return to the sidelines as a student coach for up-and-coming players in his former position as defensive back. Mazza spent a large part of the semester helping freshmen adjust to college, both on and off the field. He’s also been vocal about his support for his cause, and offered advice for other players who may get the same call he received. “Definitely do it,” Mazza said. “I don’t think you could do anything better in life than to help someone in need, especially someone with cancer. If it’s a young kid like that, we’re at that age where we’ve gotten to experience things they haven’t yet. Seeing that 18-year-old kid about to be where I was four years ago helped my decision.” And what about the teen in Massachusetts? The Andy Talley Foundation keeps recipients anonymous, but gives them the choice to meet their donor within a year of the transfusion. Mazza feels that meeting is likely, and hopes to come face to face with the boy he has helped and learn more about him.