By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It is Thanksgiving day, Nate Majnanic’s day.
You probably don’t know Nate Majnanic, even though he is a West Virginia University football player.
See, he’s a senior, about to trot onto Mountaineer Field for the final time after a four-year career, yet he has never played, and the tale of how he got from Akron, Ohio, to this moment is a warm story of perseverance and desire, of fighting back from injury and rejection to live out one’s dream.
“It was always a dream to play Division I football, but through high school I didn’t get the looks,” he related after his final Tuesday night practice of his career, preparing for Saturday’s 4 p.m. Senior Day game against Iowa State.
“I had some injuries in high school,” he said.
“My sophomore year, first day of two-a-days, I broke my ankle. I came back and then I blew out my knee, all in the same season,” he said. “That kind of set me back a little bit.”
A little bit? Some people might consider joining the debate team over the football team following that.
He played football and played well enough to keep the dream alive enough that he sent his tape out.
“The only place that kind of said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you a look’ was here. I had Division II and III, but this was the only Division I school,” he said.
Bill Stewart was the head coach then, Jeff Mullen his offensive coordinator, and Mullen was the one who told him WVU could give him a shot at walking on.
So he came to the summer tryout.
“I tried out the first time and didn’t make it,” Majnanic recalled. “I’d come and visited the school and loved it. I liked the blue collar mentality.”
So, he figured he’d stay in school, which was fine, but something was dogging him.
He still wanted to play football.
“I didn’t want to quit,” he said. “I felt like I had a chance. It was one time down, so I’ll just try again.”
He did and was cut a second time, but didn’t just go away and become a student.
“I kept in touch with Coach Mullen, and he kept telling me it was a numbers game, to keep working and maybe it will work out,” Majnanic said.
Fall became spring, and there was another tryout. Majnanic was there.
“I didn’t make it then, either, but in my head I felt I had one more shot,” he said.
He was dejected, obviously, but determined.
And there was something else keeping him going.
“My faith,” he said. “I prayed and said I’ll do whatever it takes, and if you say it’s time for me to be done with football, OK, I’ll be done with football, but let it be time for me to quit. I just didn’t feel it was time for me to quit.”
Majnanic made up his mind to give it one more try in the summer between his freshman and sophomore season.
His dad, Daniel, told him he thought he ought to keep after it and train over the summer.
“I got a sublease at the Georgetown Apartments and was there alone,” Majnanic said. “I went and worked out with Pro Performance, and then I got a call from Coach Mullen, and he told me I would be a preferred walk-on.”
You’d of thought he won the lottery.
“Yeah!” he shouted.
“I called everybody. That night I celebrated,” he said.
OK, he made the team, and now it is four years later.
He hasn’t played in any games.
Does he regret it, pouring the work into football that you must pour in?
“No,” he said, without hesitation. “Every day is competition. All the connections I’ve made … I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “The experience … I got to play on the Orange Bowl team. I got to play on two Big East championship teams. I got to see coaching changes. I got to see conference changes.
“It got me more into coaching, and I want to coach. I got my master’s in coaching education. I got a minor in strength and conditioning, a minor in exercise psychology and the greatest thing …”
The greatest thing? He can top all that?
“The greatest thing was this past fall when Coach (Dana) Holgorsen told me they were going to put me on scholarship for my last semester,” he said. “I was speechless. It was … ‘eh, th … thanks, coach’ I didn’t know what to say.”
Out of nowhere, he was a scholarship football player at West Virginia.
“I didn’t see that coming,” he admitted. “You’ve got to persevere; you have to work.”
Now it’s the final game of his career. He says there are no promises from anyone that he will get into it.
“I just keep going hard; if it works out that I can, that would awesome. I’ve gone through so many scenarios in my head imagining what that would be like in my head; it would be awesome. But even if that doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.