The date was September 2, 2016. The Brebeuf Braves were hosting the eventual 2A state champion Cardinal Ritter Raiders. After a disappointing loss to Chatard to start the year, the Braves had responded with a big win over South Bend St. Joseph’s and were on their way to another four-score victory over the eventual 2A State Champions. Their ground game was developing nicely with junior tailback Noah Delumpa rushing for 165 yards on 30 carries in the first two contests. He had taken things to another level on this night, having rushed for another 70 yards on only three carries. Delumpa had visions of doing even more damage when he received the speed option pitch from quarterback Luke Iffert. Five yards later, the damage was done.
“I got it, ran about 5 yards, then cut to the left off of my right leg. My leg felt really awkward, and I heard a pop. I initially thought that I had dislocated my knee cap. I had no idea that I had just torn my ACL,” recalled Delumpa.
Initially, no one really knew the extent of the injury. It was not until the next day that Delumpa was told it could be something so severe. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis of an ACL tear. Surgery was scheduled and performed without any complications. A groggy Noah recalled coming to in the hospital bed and trying to make sense of the conversations occurring around him.
“All I remember was lying there listening to the doctors talk to my parents about a “cardiac abnormality” I have. I was extremely confused as to why they were talking about my heart when I had had surgery on my knee.”
While Noah was under a general anesthesia, the surgeon’s heart monitors caught an abnormal rhythm. All of a sudden, the ACL injury took a backseat to a potentially life-threatening condition.
“The doctor’s kept feeling my pulse and asking me questions like, ‘Have you ever gotten light headed when playing sports?’ or, ‘Have you ever passed out?’ It all really meant nothing to me until the night I got home from the hospital. As my mom began explaining my condition, I understood why it had saddened her so much. She explained that with my condition there was a risk that I could die on the field while playing football and that I could not play anymore.”
The typical ACL injury takes anywhere from two to nine months to heal. The initial diagnosis made it highly likely Noah’s 2016 season was over. While terrible news, he at least had his senior year to look forward to. The discovery of his cardiac abnormality seemingly meant the end of a dream he had been working for most of his young life.
“I knew Brebeuf was where I wanted to go from the time I first knew what Brebeuf was. I have a huge family legacy at Brebeuf Jesuit. My mother, uncle, older brother, and older sister are all alumni. I also have three younger siblings who are following me here now.”
While attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel as an eighth grader, he approached then first-year coach Mic Roessler about serving as a ball boy. He just could not wait to be a part of Braves football.
“He asked me to be our ball boy for our games,” Roessler recalled. “He was one of the best I’ve seen because he paid attention to the game. I could tell from the start that football meant a lot to him.”
The Braves went 11-4 that season, falling a touchdown short to Andrean in the AAA State Championship. Delumpa was all in. As a freshman, he carried the ball fourteen times in varsity games for 77 yards. His role expanded as a sophomore, carrying the ball 60 times for 173 yards. His junior year was expected to be his breakout season where we would handle the lion’s share of the carries. With this news, it appeared as if his career was over before it had even begun.
The first doctor the Delumpas met with was emphatic that Noah’s athletic career was over. Despite Noah’s assurances that he had never experienced any of the possible warning signs of impending trouble, the answer was a firm “no.”
Dissatisfied, the family sought a second opinion. This doctor worked specifically as a sports cardiologist. He put Noah through a battery of tests to study his heart during stressful activities and ordered an MRI. The test results came back clean. The MRI did not. Noah did, in fact, have an extra growth on his heart.
“So I had the condition, but showed zero signs of it,” explained Delumpa. “The doctor explained to me that I was at the lowest possible risk of anything happening to me when I compete in active competitive sports. He told my parents and I that the decision for me to play football would be up to us and the school. We set up a meeting with my parents, the football coaches, the trainers, Brebeuf’s principal, and Brebeuf’s president, where we discussed how the risk of anything happening to me was extremely low.”
“We all met and went over the situation in full detail. My only question was how Amy Delumpa, Noah’s mother, felt about her son returning to the game. She admitted she was a little nervous about it, but was confident they had done their research and found the risks were minor enough to let him try to return. We all love Noah and wanted him to play, but we weren’t going to make a quick decision and not have a plan moving forward,” recounted Roessler.
So a plan was put in place. The coaching and support staff were trained in CPR. An Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) was present at every workout. Noah’s constitution was constantly monitored during each drill.
“I’m sure he was exhausted answering the questions about how he was feeling. To say the coaches were on top of the situation would be an understatement. Everyone in Noah’s life was concerned, even his teammates,” added Roessler.
For his part, Noah seized this second opportunity with all of his might. He woke up early to put in miles and miles of road work. He lifted weights five days-a-week. He meticulously curated his diet with an eye towards the nutrition he would need to function at the absolute highest level.
“I had a chip on my shoulder. I was also motivated to perform well for my family. After everything they went through to get me to play again, the least I could do was give them a show. I wanted Brebeuf to be known for its running game once again. I wanted to rush for 1,000 yards and score at least 12 touchdowns. I had goals that I needed to achieve,” recounted Delumpa.
Things seemed to be on track as the summer ended. The Braves were highly touted and looking to make some noise both in the Circle City Conference and the IHSAA tournament. Noah was chosen as one of two permanent team captains (along with James Kroot) and had established himself as the starting tailback.
The Braves opened the season at home against conference foe Bishop Chatard. The Trojans took an early lead, making it difficult for the Braves to establish a running game. Delumpa ended up accounting for 53 yards of offense on ten touches (eight rushing attempts and two receptions). While the result of the game was not what the team or Noah had hoped for, he had proved that he was back and fully capable. This was further cemented the following week when he rushed for 95 yards on twelve carries against Arsenal Tech.
Week Three brought a rematch with the Cardinal Ritter Raiders, the team against which this whole odyssey had begun. It took exactly one play for history to repeat itself.
“I got the ball on a sweep to the left. I cut up inside and got held up by a couple of Raiders when I felt a strange pop in my right ankle. I immediately fell to the ground. I knew right away that it was broken. It was awful,” Delumpa described.
He had broken his fibula and dislocated his ankle, effectively ending his season and his career. In that moment, when the reality that his hard work would not be rewarded with a storybook ending or a 1,000 yard season, when everything he had worked so hard for had once again been taken away from him, his response spoke volumes about his character and why he is so respected by his coaches and peers.
“When he was laying on the ground at Ritter this year, I was looking for anything I could say to help him in that horrible moment. Instead, Noah greeted me with the advice not to look at his ankle because it was too awful to see. He then apologized to me for being injured again,” Roessler shared. “I was shocked. Here this kid had every right to be sad and overwhelmed with devastation, but instead he was consoling me. That’s what makes him special.”
Not surprisingly, this was not the end of Noah’s story. Buoyed by the love and support of his family and strengthened by the belief that “God has something special planned for me”, Noah set out to once again do the improbable. He attacked the rehabilitation exercise with a relentless effort and noticed he was regaining movement and strength faster than anticipated. He was originally told his rehab would take three months. His hard work ended up cutting that down to nine weeks.
Noah scored a touchdown last Friday in the Sectional Championship against Southmont.
He made his return during the second offensive drive of the night. Before the offense was sent on to the field, Roessler turned to Noah and said, “You’re getting the first carry.”
“I have never been more nervous in my life. I was not scared or intimidated at all, but I was nervous as could be. I ran onto the field and heard the crowd cheering for me. It was a great feeling. As I was standing there waiting for Derrick (Ozobu) to yell the cadence, I could not believe I was back. It all hit me when I was back there,” shared Delumpa.
The result of the play was a modest two-yard gain. He would not get the call again until the third quarter.
“Coach turned to me once more and told me I’m going in next play. I wasn’t nervous this time. We were on their 15 yard line and I was looking to score. The play was a tailback screen to me. I had to score! Derrick threw me the ball, I cut right then crossed the plane. Not even kidding, it was a top 10 moment of my life so far. The feeling was indescribable.”
Moving forward, Roessler expects to see Noah’s playing time increase with each passing week. One might expect his role to grow, but it is hard to imagine how anything he may do on the field could exceed the influence his attitude and perseverance has already had on the team.
“His presence lifts us all to another level of confidence; not because of his athletic talent so much, but for his confidence to succeed,” Roessler elaborated. “His doctors proclaimed he will be 100 percent recovered the week of the state finals. So winning these games the past few weeks has meant championships and the full return of our friend and captain.”
As for Noah, the goals of rushing for a thousand yards and adding his name to the pantheon of the greatest rushers in Braves history have been replaced by a different set of aspirations he has quietly been building towards over the past fifteen months.
“I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up on what he wanted even when every odd was stacked against him. I want to inspire people who go through tough times such as mine and motivate them to stay positive and keep fighting. I do not necessarily want to be remembered as the ‘greatest running back to come through Brebeuf’, but rather the running back that inspired other people to keep pushing through adversity and to never, ever give up.”
At the end of the 2016 season, when it appeared that the career of Noah Delumpa was over due to a heart condition, the coaching staff made the decision to name their annual mental attitude award after him. Thanks to the support of his family, coaches, and teammates and his own indomitable spirit, he now stands as a favorite to accomplish the rare feat of earning an award that already bares his name.
Photo credit to Liz Dapp – thedapps.zenfolio.com