My childhood days were filled with sports: whiffle-ball in the backyard, football at Artesian Park with the Ryan brothers, or getting my butt kicked in hoops in my driveway playing 1-1 with my brother PJ. Growing up there was an unwritten rule about being involved in sports and doing your best. My mother, Patty, was a D1 swimmer (lone scholarship athlete in the family), and both of my sisters excelled in Field Hockey. Taking after my dad, my uncle Bill, and my brother PJ–who all played quarterback in college–I wanted to follow in their collective footsteps. I learned a lot from PJ as we grew up with a similar love for football, but it’s clear: Judging on the number of wins produced in a Scouts uniform, we all know who owns the title of the best athlete in the family (besides my mother, of course).
I love everything about being a quarterback. I fell in love with the responsibility that comes along with the position and the opportunity to be a leader for the other 10 guys on the field; not to mention, there were countless others who trusted and relied on me from the sideline.
While my middle school years shaped me as an athlete, high football is what really got me to realize I could play college football. My first summer in Scout football camp with Coach Spagnoli and his staff was awesome: the lifts, the runs, the practices, the playbook, I loved every second of it.
After our first stint in camp, we were on our 2-3 week break before the actual season started when something happened that changed me forever. During my annual physical, my doctor listened to my heart and sat back, her face turned pale, and she looked at me and collected herself before she mentioned me the words that would alter my life forever.
“It sort of sounds like a click. A click at the end of every heartbeat.”
I didn’t really understand what she was trying to say, but I recall a few days later finding myself on a cold table with 9 wires connected to my chest for an examination of my heart.
Waiting for the results was painful, but the outcome of the tests was far worse. A few days after the exam, I walked into my house and my entire family was sitting around the kitchen table–silent, almost like a funeral. Each looked at me with a distinct and rare look that I remember vividly today. I knew something was wrong. We have trouble getting all six of us at a family dinner, let alone all of us together in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. While absorbing the faces staring back at me, I sat down next to my oldest sister Sarah. Sarah slowly slid a notecard that was perched in front of Grace over to me.
The card read “3rd degree Atrioventricular heart block.”
I vaguely recall my mom trying to explain what a heart block meant. I later came to understand that the electrical parts of my heart were not communicating properly. That fateful day at the kitchen table all I wanted to know is if I could play football when the season started. When my mom got to the part about sports, I listened up even closer than before. I remember her telling me, “You can’t play until we learn more, Danny.” She didn’t know how long it would be. Generally, I don’t show much emotion, but man, when I heard I couldn’t play I immediately went upstairs, hopped in the shower, and cried.
The following week I met with multiple heart specialists. They were all stumped. One said the only possible reason for the condition is that I’ve had it since birth. Another was sure it was Lyme disease. Other opinions floated around, but they were all just words to me. We had no clue what was going on and the more doctors I went to, the more scared I became. Eventually, one doctor made the call: Somehow Lyme disease had settled in my heart and we were going to begin treatment the next day. Treatment involved going to the doctor’s office once a day for 21 straight days (including Sundays) to receive shots in both of my legs. The medicine was thicker than syrup and the pain was absurdly insane. It was a vicious 3-week cycle.
During my treatment I wasn’t cleared for any physical activity. I was even discouraged from walking to my friends’ houses because I was at risk for passing out. This period of time was easily the most difficult time of my life. The process took a toll on my mind as I had no idea if I was ever going to play sports again. I remember believing if I couldn’t play football and basketball, maybe they’d let me play ping-pong (I had delivered my first beat down to PJ recently) and that I’d try out for the Olympic team.
Time passed, and fortunately the condition healed for the most part. I still live with a very manageable first degree heart block. The experience gave me a great appreciation for sports and for being a part of a team. I learned to never take being on a team for granted and, as was drilled into me as a kid, I understood that I had to give every sport I played my full effort 100% of the time.
Eventually I was free to play sports again. Freshman football season was a blast. I found my passion again and I was ready work to achieve my dream to play in college.
Four years of high school proved to be a great experience for me. In large part, this was because of the coaches we had in football and basketball and also due to the team aspect of both sports. I had worked hard to compete for the starting varsity quarterback position as a sophomore, but it didn’t play out that way. After a solid sophomore year of football, I was finally ready to be named the starter and got the nod.
My junior year our team did well enough for me to start getting a few looks from small colleges. I remember when I got that first recruitment letter, it was one of the best days of my life. I was being recognized for something I loved. One eventual problem came up, though, that is a problem for so many young athletes–I never got the offers I thought I would.
In April and May of my junior year, college coaches came in to watch me throw during our 6 AM throwing workouts. The bad news was always that no schools were ready to pull the trigger on an offer. Multiple times assistant coaches told me, “hey, you’re going to be our guy, the head coach will give you a call in a few days with some good news,” but those calls never came. Those few months were challenging for me because going into the early morning throwing sessions, I was the most confident kid in the world. Simply put, the coveted, almost promised offers never materialized, sans one from Northern Iowa, and it shook my confidence.
My senior year season, I basically said “screw it” and focused on playing my best and having fun with my team in our final year. I thoroughly enjoyed the season playing with my best friends one last time: Quinn Julian, who is truly an incredible athlete, along with Wil Audley, the Ryan brothers, and everyone else. Each and every Scout teammate I had proved to be an incredible part of the journey for me. As an athlete the worst thing in the world would be looking back and having regrets. I can honestly say I have no regrets when it comes to HS football. I loved the guys and coaches and with all my heart.
I am currently one of 5, soon to be 7 quarterbacks for Purdue University and I value everything about the experience. Most kids would likely hate the schedule because each hour of the day is spoken for: up at 5:30 AM and busy until 10 PM. It may sound corny, but I thrive on the grind. I didn’t at first but I do now. A typical day looks like this: 6 AM lift and speed workout, classes 9 AM-noon, meetings from 1:30 until 3:00 PM, on the field practicing from 3:30 – 6 PM, then dinner and thankfully a mandatory study hall. When I first got to West Lafayette for summer football a few days after my graduation from Lake Forest, the long days were brutal.
During a 2016 routine follow-up visit with my heart doctor, Dr. Ward, I thought back to my childhood ordeal. I thought about how much I loved to play the game, how much I valued being able to compete, and how much I appreciated being part of a team. For as long as I could remember, being involved in football is exactly what I wanted. The combination of my passion for the game coupled with the perspective gained from my heart complications leaves me both determined and focused to keep competing in football.
Football is a distinct segment of my life that has helped shape me into who I am. I will continue to work hard to exceed my own expectations, and, to be quite frank, the expectations that those who passed on me had. In fact, I encourage you to go ahead and doubt me, because nothing fuels me mentally more than that. As a player, you can complain and feel sorry for yourself, or you can prove people wrong. You can be bitter, or you can be better.
And I’ll always strive to be that much better, 3rd degree Atrioventricular heart block and all.
Danny Carollo (’16)