By BOB PADECKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — Matt Abramo’s baby face hides it all. His voice, soft, without edges, provides further camouflage. His manner belongs in a library, as if noise is the great intruder and arrogance the greatest obscenity.
For the events of July 25 and July 26, Abramo was encouraged to hide nothing, to reveal everything, to be 16 years old, to act like he was 16, to respond to the events untethered, and no one would have responded in the negative.
On Friday the 25th Abramo, Casa Grande’s placekicker, announced he was verbally committing to Washington State University. Entering his senior year at Casa, Abramo has been judged to have “perhaps the strongest leg in the nation” by Chris Sailer. Sailer was a two-time All-American kicker at UCLA, kicked the longest field in UCLA history (56 yards), signed with the 49ers on 1999, played Arena Football for five years. A Sailer endorsement on a high school kicker is like a Joe Montana endorsement on a high school quarterback.
Abramo kicked at three of Sailer’s camps this summer. Abramo was ranked the top kicker at a Sailer camp in Las Vegas. Among 300 invited kickers Abramo had six kickoffs that averaged 72 yards with an average hang time of four seconds.
Abramo’s reaction to his Washington State announcement?
“My parents don’t have to pay for my college education,” said Abramo, who plans to major in civil engineering, his 4.17 overall GPA and his 1,860 SAT score providing evidence he’s up to it.
His measured reaction, however, didn’t include a party hat and multiple kazoos.
“I have to thank Trent Herzog,” Abramo said of Casa’s head football coach. “He guided me along the way, told me how to handle myself (while being recruited), what to look for.”
The next day Abramo spoke at a memorial service at Petaluma Valley Athletic Club for C.J. Banaszek, the 13-year old who died July 15 after a two-plus-year battle with childhood leukemia.
Did Abramo speak about the $2,000 he has raised for leukemia research? Did Abramo say he was going to wear something orange — C.J.’s favorite — on his Casa uniform or his Washington State uniform?
“It wouldn’t have been appropriate to talk about myself,” Abramo said.
That would have made him uncomfortable.
This also made him feel comfortable: Well-wishers came to Abramo at PVAC to congratulate him on receiving a full ride to a Division I, Pac-12 university. He received all compliments with grace and courtesy. He understood they came from a good place. Yes, it is a big deal. He took it in the spirit delivered. He wasn’t offended. Still …
“Why are you saying that now?” Abramo was thinking to himself. “Say it later, somewhere else.”
Abramo is appropriate, that’s the right word to describe him. He is not an empty shell, devoid of spunk.
He cracks wise with those closest to him, likes a good verbal jab, but doesn’t view himself at the center of the universe, a common teenage affliction. Abramo is aware of boundaries. C.J. helped him establish that.
“C.J. made me a better person,” Abramo said. “He made you feel better about yourself.”
Abramo spoke of C.J.’s ability to face a disease with equanimity, a smile that could wash away the anxiety of a visitor to his hospital room. It was a lesson one kid was teaching another kid, how to deal with adversity, made all the more remarkable by the back story on how Abramo’s fund-raising came about.
Before the 2013 Casa season, Abramo pledged $5 for every extra point he made, $10 to any field goal 40 yards or less and $20 for every field goal longer than 40 yards. All the monies went to “Alex’s Lemonade Stand,” a nationwide non-profit to raise funds for childhood cancer research.
Having raised $2,000 thus far through his 2013 kicking and resultant donor donations, Abramo will continue the pledge this season and wants to continue it at Washington State, again NCAA permitting.
Abramo had never met C.J. Banaszek when he began his fund raising.
“I had heard about him and his cancer,” Abramo said. The news struck a responsive chord: As a freshman, Abramo lost his grandmother to cancer and Koda, his beloved dog, to the disease as well.
“I didn’t want them (the Banaszek family) to face the same thing,” Abramo said. “I wanted to raise money to cure C.J. and have him experience a normal life.”
Abramo finally met C.J. and found all the things he was told about C.J. to be true: That C.J. was kind, smart, aware, personable.
“The thing is,” I interjected, “that’s the same thing they say about you, Matt.”
Abramo looked me straight in the eye, unblinking.
“They say that?” Abramo asked.
“Yes, they sure do,” I replied.
Abramo paused, his blank face released a smile.
“Oh good,” Matt Abramo said.
As if he was unsure if people noticed.
Yes, Matt, people notice. When a boy can still be a man, people notice. They most definitely do.
To contact Bob Padecky email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.