Football: Hilltoppers play with ‘Mammo’ in their hearts
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 10:26PM
Lexie Dames of Minooka, a cousin of Joliet Catholic’s Matt Mammosser, shows off bracelets she wears in Matt’s memory while she watches the USF 7-on-7 Passing Jamboree on Thursday at Memorial Stadium in Joliet. Mammosser lost his battle with cancer May 27.
The first in an occasional series on area athletes and teams gearing up for the 2012-13 high school football season.
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:26AM
At first glance, the Joliet Catholic football team that participated Thursday in the University of St. Francis 7-on-7 Passing Jamboree at ATI Field at Memorial Stadium looked much like everyone else.
New kids on the varsity getting their feet wet, learning the system and hoping not to get burned too badly by the experienced guys on the other side of the ball.
But inside, deep in their hearts, the Hilltoppers have more tucked away than your average high school team. Thursday marked their first time on the field facing an opponent since the death of beloved teammate Matt “Mammo” Mammosser, who lost his battle with primary nervous system metastatic melanoma May 27.
Mammosser started at defensive tackle as a junior last season when Joliet Catholic finished second in the state in Class 5A. He also was a member of the Hilltoppers’ dominant summer powerlifting team under strength coach Francis Ruettiger.
Linebacker Matt Madrigal, center/defensive tackle Lino Bibian and running back Tyler Reitz also are members of the lifting team and were especially close to Mammosser. They said that while their classmate and friend is gone, he will remain with them all next season and beyond.
“This one is for him,” Madrigal said. “We are going back to state and winning it for him.”
Mammosser had a hearing impairment all of his life, but that never kept him from being the ideal teammate.
“Matt was the hardest working kid I knew,” Madrigal said. “He was in early every day and was the last to leave. That’s how he motivated everyone else.”
After Mammosser learned of his cancer, Ruettiger said he cared so much about others that he apologized to Ruettiger that he may not be able to be on the lifting team this summer.
“Even when we went to see him at Children’s and he was there in bed, he said he can’t wait to get out and be back for the big lifting meet (in late July),” Madrigal said. “Just to have those memories of him brings everyone closer together on the field. We all have someone to play for.”
“We want to live this season the way he did things,” Reitz said. “The way Matt was, when he found out what he had, he was afraid to tell coach (Dan) Sharp that he might not be able to play next season.”
“Matt and I partnered in everything since we started at JCA,” Bibian said. “One thing I remember is the way Matt would get mad if he missed a weight when we were lifting. He always wanted to be better.
“The bad news got the guys down, but then they saw the way Matt would do anything to get back on the field, and I think that is sticking with them.”
Reitz said players and coaches have been discussing getting stickers with 91 (Mammosser’s number) for their helmets and getting a large flag with 91 on it to lead the team onto the field before every game in the fall.
“There are still other things we are thinking about, too,” Reitz said.Ty Isaac, ranked among the nation’s best running backs and recently committed to USC, said, “What he (Mammosser) left me with is that football was his everything. He would kill to be out there with us today. So if we ever don’t feel like pushing it like we should, we need to remember what he would do if he were here.”
Sharp noted the Joliet Catholic football family always has sported legendary Hilltoppers coach Gordie Gillespie’s never-give-up attitude.
“He (Mammosser) lived what Gordie taught us, and I know the kids out here are carrying that with them, how much Matt would want them to do well,” Sharp said. “He fought through his ordeal and never quit.
“The way these kids handled the whole situation makes you feel good about our young people. They expressed a love toward the Mammosser family and toward Matt that none of us had experienced before.”
And it will be ongoing.
“The number 91 is going to be everywhere, and Matt’s spirit will be with us forever,” Sharp said.