A slight tear in Bartlett fullback Nathan Massey's meniscus might be the best thing that ever happened to his education.
Like the vast majority of high school football players in the Chicago suburbs, Massey, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior, entered the 2011 season intent on impressing Big Ten football coaches. The two-year starter hoped at the very least to hook on with a Division-I program of some kind and fulfill his dream of playing college football at the highest level.
However, the 17-year-old's dream of competing in stadiums named Camp Randall, Ross-Ade and Memorial didn't exactly pan out, due partly to injury.
Massey was enjoying a solid start to the season until he suffered the knee injury against Batavia in Week 4. He returned in two weeks but was never quite 100 percent. He finished with 217 rushing yards (5.3 avg.) and 3 touchdowns for an offense that reached the end zone 46 times.
Not surprisingly, those Big Ten offers never materialized.
Fortunately, Massey had the best of all backup plans. He was able to fall back on his impressive academic statistics like a 4.1 grade-point average and ACT score of 31.
The football coaches at the University of Chicago -- which placed fifth in U.S. News and World Report's 2012 rankings of America's best colleges -- took notice of Massey's combination of brain and brawn after receiving a package of academic and athletic highlights from Nathan's father, Patrick.
Nathan (Nate to his friends) was invited to attend the school's summer camp in July. He impressed the coaches and vice versa. Though the Maroons play Division III football in the United Athletic Association, the birthplace of nuclear energy and astrophysics suddenly seemed like a logical landing place to Massey, who intends to major in physics and pursue a graduate degree in mechanical engineering.
"What better place to go for physics than the place that first split the atom?" he said.
The idea of holding out for an offer from a Big Ten school or its equivalent faded away as the notion of playing for the University of Chicago, a founding member of the Big Ten in the late 19th century, took root.
Massey attended a Maroons game at Elmhurst College on Sept. 17 and was hooked. Conversations with the coaching staff continued, and the Bartlett resident was offered a roster spot at midseason. He accepted the offer on Dec. 19.
"Everyone wants to get into the Big Ten and be starting and be that all-star freshman, but when I went out to see one of the University of Chicago's games at Elmhurst I just liked the way they played," said Massey, who will play H-back in a spread offense. "I liked that kind of football. It seemed like a good fit for me."
No, Nate Massey won't play elite-level college football as he once dreamed, but the sport he loves helped pave the way for him to obtain one of the finest educations available from one of the country's most prestigious universities. Playing Big 10 football would be a minor accomplishment compared to securing a degree from the University of Chicago and Massey knows it.
"My injury really stopped me as far as keeping things from going as I originally wanted," he said. "but everything happens for a reason. I think things probably worked out for the best."