Hanging a Left

Chris had the necessary drive for football. It was the drive to seminary he was having trouble with.

He had no trouble getting up. The alarm would go off, and Chris Muraski was wide awake. Things to do, you know.

No, getting up was never the problem. Being where he was supposed to be was.

Here’s the scoop. At 5:30 A.M., Chris would get dressed, grab a banana, head out the door, and go straight for a couple of blocks. He then had a choice. He could continue driving for another block until he arrived at Libertyville High School in this Chicago suburb. Or he could hang a left and go to Libertyville’s civic center for early-morning seminary.

For two years Chris never used his turn signal on that morning drive.

As a freshman he attended seminary. He even went for part of his sophomore year.

But come on. He was an outside linebacker and he wanted to get stronger. Early-morning weight lifting—extra work on his own—would make him a better player. It was something he had to do.

Midway through that second year of high school, Chris decided he’d skip early-morning seminary even if it would make him a better person.

During the two years he was in the weight room, Chris got stronger and became a solid high school football player, playing for a very good team. The weight lifting was paying off. Unfortunately, injuries began occurring—more specifically, concussions.

“It’s ironic because that’s when the concussions started—when I stopped going to seminary,” he says.

The concussions, bruisings of the brain due to hard hits, were a bit scary because of both pain and memory loss.

The first concussion came during Chris’s sophomore year. He took a hit to the head that forced him to sit out the second half of a game. “It was like waking up from a dream. I couldn’t remember the plays before. I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to go. It took me 10 minutes to pull it all together,” he remembers. “I wanted to go back in during the fourth quarter but the coaches wouldn’t let me.”

Then during the second game of his junior season in 1997, after being cleared to play, Chris took another hit to the head and the result was another concussion. This time it was a bit more serious. It was a kickoff return, and Chris came in for the tackle. Much of that play is a foggy memory, but he does remember this vital statistic: the guy that leveled Chris was six-foot-six and 250 pounds.

“The guy that hit me was huge. I just went full blast into him, and that pretty much ended my season right there,” he says.

It’s worth mentioning that despite the extra work in the weight room, Chris only tipped the scales at a lean 152 that year. It was hardly a fair fight.

After sitting out much of the season on doctors’ orders, Chris played in one more game, then sustained a third concussion in practice. “That was it. I didn’t know if I would even be able to play the next year. The doctors were concerned, and I didn’t want to mess up my brain,” Chris says. “I didn’t feel very confident that I’d be fine, that I wouldn’t have any more problems.”

Chris, at the time a priest in the Buffalo Grove Second Ward, Buffalo Grove Stake, thought often about his love for football. Would he ever play again? Would there be any long-term effects from the blows to the head? These were all questions a high school junior didn’t want to face.

That summer Chris’s bishop approached him. He didn’t want to talk about football. Instead he asked him, “So, Chris, how’s seminary coming?”

But the bishop already knew the answer. When he asked Chris if he would start attending again, Chris said, “No, probably not.” The weight lifting was still too important. At least that’s what he thought.

“I was still active. I was going to church every week. I wasn’t in the gutter,” he explains. “But I wasn’t doing all the little extra things.”

Like going to seminary.

Chris began thinking about his choices, about seminary, about his future. And it wasn’t like he disliked seminary the one year he did regularly attend.

Later the bishop approached Chris again. He had something important to tell him. Chris said that the bishop talked to him and promised him that if he would go to seminary, the Lord would bless him and he wouldn’t have problems with concussions. But Chris needed to aim for 100 percent attendance.

“When he said what he said, I thought, I’ll do it. So I put my faith in what the bishop promised me right there.”

On the first day of seminary to begin the 1997–98 school year, there sat Chris Muraski.

He’d finally made the left turn.

Chris missed exactly one day of seminary last year—because of a conflict with wrestling. But he made that day up. He also didn’t miss one football game during a year when he was one of Libertyville’s team captains. Last summer he earned a spot on an Illinois all-star team that traveled to Australia.

And he never came close to getting another concussion.

“I regret putting lifting in front of seminary,” he says now. “Every morning I was at seminary I felt I was in the right spot, and I got that spiritual flavor that kind of gives you that boost. I feel more spiritual. My testimony has grown from it, from striving to be better.”

Once upon a time Chris was bench pressing 240 pounds. Today it’s down to 200.

Yeah, he may have lost 40 pounds off his bench press, but after returning to seminary, Chris was still plenty strong.

[photos] Photography courtesy of Regina De Dominicis and by Laury Livsey

[photo] Chris’s challenge as an undersized linebacker was to routinely take on much larger offensive linemen as he tried to pressure the quarterback.

[photos] A bigger challenge was to make the time for seminary. Once he did (below, with mom), Chris didn’t regret it.