Former Penn State defensive lineman Brandon Noble laid unconscious on his couch at his daughter’s second birthday party, his leg massive and red.
Noble was rushed to the hospital — and thankfully in the nick of time.
The then-Washington Redskin had a serious case of MRSA in 2005, and if he waited 12 more hours before getting to treatment, his leg would’ve been amputated.
“The good Lord was trying to get me to stop playing football,” Noble said with a smile at Sunday afternoon’s 20th Annual Scholar-Athletes Awards banquet. “But I’m really hard-headed.”
The 1997 Fiesta Bowl MVP emphasized the importance of passion and love for the game, as he highlighted the banquet sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
The chapter recognized 54 athletes for their performances on the field and in the classroom, including Penn State’s Tyler Yazujian, Bald Eagle Area’s Elias Myers, Bellefonte’s Tyler Kreger, Penns Valley’s Jared Hurd, St. Joseph’s Jake Stormer, and State College’s Pete Haffner, at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
Haffner, who attended the banquet five years ago when his brother, Jack, was honored, said it’s been a goal of his to make it to this point. Kreger, representing the Red Raiders, felt the same way.
“It’s an honor to be here, just hearing how much football meant to all the speakers, and how football and academics played such a large part of their lives,” Kreger said.
Noble’s half-hour speech was captivating as the 10-year NFL veteran explained his lengthy injury history and the perseverance that pushed him through it all.
The defensive tackle went undrafted in 1997 after a noteworthy collegiate career, landing with the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. He was later assigned to NFL Europe and eventually worked his way up to a starting role with the Dallas Cowboys in 2001.
Noble signed a four-year contract with Washington in 2003, finally locking up some security after a flurry of one-year deals in Dallas.
But then the injury bug hit. In his second preseason game with Washington, Noble went down — and stayed down.
“I’m laying there, and Bruce Smith, who had been in the league for 18 years at this point, leans over, looks at me, and goes, ‘Oh Lord,’” Noble said. “So, right away, I knew this was bad.”
And it was.
He tore his left ACL, MCL and PCL while dislocating his kneecap on the play.
“It was like Joe Theisman,” Noble recalled. “That was the noise. It sounded like a tree broke.”
Following an intricate surgery and months of rehab, Noble, somehow, made it back for the following season’s August camp and played in all 16 regular season games. He was awarded the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award.
However, the next year is when he contracted MRSA — for the first time. He fought it again in his other leg a few months later, and finally retired from the NFL after the 2005 season.
Noble’s message reinforced how important sports were to him, how he refused to quit no matter the odds. It was a speech most local athletes — such as Kreger and Haffner, who were among seven $1,000 scholarship winners — listened carefully to and looked upon.
“It really hits home,” Kreger said. “I can relate really well.”
Despite years of debilitating injuries and threatening infections, Noble has no regrets about his time strapping it up.
And that was his message to the athletes in attendance, to find something to love as much as football.
“All of that adversity, all of that up-and-down, I would 100 percent do it 100 times again to play this game,” Noble said. “I wouldn’t think twice about it.”
20th annual Awards Dinner
Lifetime Achievement in Football Award Winner: George Curry, Berwick and Wyoming Valley West High Schools
Lifetime Contribution to Football Award (Coaching): Dave Baker, Williamsburg and Central High Schools
Lifetime Contribution to Football Award (Coaching): Don Bailey, Forest Hills High School
Lifetime Contribution to Football Award (Coaching): Gary Klingensmith, Juniata High School
Lifetime Contribution to Football Award (Football Officiating): Lou Idzojtic
Lifetime Contribution to Football Award (Athletic Training): James L. Thornton
Fran Fisher Award (Excellence in Sports Journalism): Gary Chrisman
$1,000 student-athlete scholarship winners: Tyler Kreger, Bellefonte; Jacob Muthler, Central; Jesse Beacker, Homer-Center; David Gose, Lewisburg; Alden Mileto, Loyalsock Township; James Woods, Mount Union Area; Pete Haffner, State College