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Not even torn ACL can slow down Norcross' Maloof

Staff Photo: John Bohn Tanner Maloof is a senior baseball player with Norcross High School. Maloof has excelled during this baseball season and is currently finalizing his options for college.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Tanner Maloof is a senior baseball player with Norcross High School. Maloof has excelled during this baseball season and is currently finalizing his options for college.

To most athletes, a torn anterior cruciate ligament is usually a season-killer.

For someone like Norcross' Tanner Maloof, whose legs make him a key contributor to Blue Devils' football and baseball teams, it could have meant two lost seasons.

But amazingly, the knee injury the 6-foot, 190-pound senior suffered last September cost him just two games of the 2011 season.

Even more amazingly, Maloof hasn't lost a step on the baseball field this spring despite not having had reconstructive surgery, and is among the team's biggest leaders as the Blue Devils remain in the thick of a Class AAAAA state playoff berth in Region 7-AAAAA.

"I feel like I'm as fast as I was my junior year and playing football (before the injury)," said Maloof, a linebacker for Norcross' football team and the starting centerfielder for the baseball team. "I really don't think it's affecting me that much. I kind of feel it sometimes when I get out of my zone ... when I'm cutting or something like that. ... But I haven't had any problems with it.

"I think the only way I'll have surgery is if (the knee) slips out or starts hurting me real bad. But right now, it hasn't hurt me bad at all."

To set the record straight, Maloof's ACL wasn't just partially torn. He has no ACL left.

It was completely blown during Norcross' 35-14 football victory over archrival Duluth on Sept. 16.

And he admitted the prospect of missing the rest of the season was firmly in his mind when it happened.

"I really wasn't thinking about baseball at that time, since it was football season," Maloof said. "It did scare me because (maybe) I wasn't going to be able to play my senior year of high school football. All the hard work I'd put in, it just killed (me) not being able to play with my teammates."

Yet after an MRI and consultation with doctors in the days that followed, it was determined that he might be able to carry on playing without having a two-season-ending surgery."

He had a previous partial tear of the same ACL --and the hard work he put into rehabbing that injury -- to thank for it.

"The thing is, he'd already hurt it, and he'd built the muscles back up around it," said Norcross football coach, and Tanner's father, Keith Maloof. "That's why he's able to (be back in action so quickly)."

Sure enough, after intensive physical therapy, Tanner Maloof was back on the football field within two weeks on his way to recording 102 combined tackles and assists, including 17 during the Blue Devils state playoff loss to Dacula.

Still, as Tanner's father, as well as his coach, there had to have been at least some trepidation in Keith Maloof's mind allowing his son to resume action so soon.

But the elder Maloof said he not only got assurances from Tanner's doctors, but also knew his son's competitive spirit.

"My first thought was that his season was over," Keith Maloof said. "But once we got to the doctors and they were able to see the MRI and look at everything, we realized he might be able to fight through it.

"They (Norcross' football players) are all (like) my kids. That's how I approach it. And one of the things Tanner's been able to do is fight through things. That (Dacula) game, when he had something like 17 tackles, I knew he'd gotten (fully) back. What he's done in baseball is a credit to him and his work ethic."

What the younger Maloof has done is not only pick up where he left off last year after hitting .481 with 15 RBIs, but progress even further.

It's far more than first-year Blue Devils baseball coach Jonathan Wyman could've imagined he'd get from Maloof after after hearing about his injury in the fall.

"The word was out real quick how special he was," said Wyman, who was hired to succeed Andy Collins last summer after the latter had left to take an assistant coaching job at Tusculum College in Tennessee. "I've never been more worried, anxious, depressed ... (about a player's injury).

"The thing is, it happened so early in my tenure, I didn't know who else we had. I didn't know who was coming out (for the team). I didn't know much about the outfielders. ... All these kids were totally new for me. So, it was definitely crisis mode."

But Maloof allayed any fears Wyman might have had during the first days of conditioning in preseason practice.

"When we came out and started (speed) testing on the track in the 60 (-yard dash), ... if he wasn't a sub-seven (seconds), he was right around seven, which is blazing," Wyman said. "So, I was very shocked he was the way he was. There was no labor. There was no favoritism towards that knee. There was no limp. There was just Tanner being Tanner."

Tanner continues to be Tanner on the diamond, not only leading Norcross with a .410 batting average through the Blue Devils' first 17 games, but also sharing the team lead with Jascanel Ferrera and standing among the leaders of all Gwinnett County baserunners with nine stolen bases.

Maloof continued that trend with a 3-for-4 performance with a stolen base and a run scored in an important 4-0 Blue Devils win over region leader North Gwinnett on Friday to bring Norcross within two games of the final playoff spot.

His isn't particularly concerned about whether news of the injury have made college baseball coaches hesitate with scholarship opportunities.

He does have interest from some programs, including Georgia Perimeter College, North Georgia, West Georgia and Tusculum.

And he is determined to keep working hard and demonstrate that the knee injury will not slow him down.

"No one's really asked me about it," Tanner Maloof said. "Well, a couple have, but I don't think it's really skewed (anyone's interest)."

And that kind of focus, as much as his ability, hard work and intensity, is what Wyman believes makes Maloof a role model to his teammates."He is not only the physical leader, the statistical leader and everything else and a senior," Wyman said. "All that aside, he is the emotional leader of this team."