The play was a standard corner route: Toran Maronic, rising senior and star receiver of the Bear River High School Bruins, launched up the field, cleats throwing grass and dirt as he cut an angle toward the end zone.
He’d been getting looks from the nation’s top college football programs, letters from premier lacrosse teams – Division I titans with colossal locker rooms and rabid fans and beaming cheerleaders and a path to the pros. A 2-year-old down the block looked to him like a boyfriend, a classmate with autism at Bear River as his best friend, and just about anyone who follows high school sports saw in this teen from just northeast of Sacramento one of the top prospects in the state.
Thundering toward the far corner on June 24, Toran stretched his arms and dove, reaching for his second touchdown of the game, his fifth in this non-contact weekend tournament. Two spectators standing on the narrow sideline had their backs turned. They were watching a scrimmage on the next field, oblivious as his 180-pound frame sailed toward them.
Toran slammed into them head-first. Doctors suspect he blacked out before he even hit the ground, his brain smashing against the rough inner surface of his skull. Then it got rocked again, the pivotal blow, when his head, protected by just a soft-shelled helmet, crashed to the turf.
His father, David, was watching from the sidelines.
“At first I thought he twisted an ankle or worst-case-scenario broke an arm or leg or something,” David says. “And then he just started shaking like crazy, and I took off across the field, and he was in a full seizure and bleeding from the mouth.”