This Hits Different, Episode 73: Local football player’s injury saves his life

Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Westminster football player and Neshannock grad Joey Antuono

In today’s episode of This Hits Different, Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Westminster football player and Neshannock grad Joey Antuono and the injury that saved his life.

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There are fewer devastating injuries in football than an ACL tear.

“For that to happen, I just said that there has to be a reason for this,” says Joey Antuono, a Neshannock grad and Westminster sophomore about the injury robbed him of far more than a season of football.

He specifically chose Westminster to play his freshman season alongside his older brother.

“We never got the chance to play with each other in high school,” Joey says. “We had one last year to finally make that happen. So I chose to come play at Westminster to get that one year with him.”

The injury happened during a drill in practice, unknowingly ending his career, but saving his life.

“A week after my ACL surgery, the pain wasn’t getting any better at all,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep for like two or three nights straight. So finally, one morning, I went to the emergency room. Right away, they said it was a very extensive blood clot.”

He rushed to a Pittsburgh hospital, where scans revealed chronic blood clots throughout his body; and later found a heart defect. Joey doesn't have a vena cava, he instead has thousands of collateral veins.

In the end, Joey says the ACL tear was divine intervention.

“Tearing my ACL basically saved my life,” he says. “It made the blood clots symptomatic.”

But life would have to be different at that point. He'll be on blood thinners for the rest of his life, putting his playing days behind him.

“I never thought about the finality of ‘this is going to be your last ride, your last game,’” he says. “But that also goes with, every time I went to the weight room or got on the field, I gave everything I had. I gave my whole heart to it. So there’s really no regrets.”

After stepping away from the game, Joey got a call offering a unique opportunity. The team he just played for a year prior needed a linebackers coach.

“That opportunity popped up, and I was like, let’s go, I’m ready to get back,” he says.

As an undergraduate himself, Joey is a college football coach for a team that, in his first season, went 7-3.
Though he admits coaching his peers, then sitting next to them in class the next morning can come with challenges, he's already seeing the impact of his work.

“One of my main goals is to truly impact their lives,” Joey says. “One of the best things I’ve heard in my whole football playing and coaching career, is a kid telling me that I put his heart back in the game and gave him his love for the game back.”

And his story is a living reminder to appreciate every snap.

“It can all end in a moment,” he says. “That’s why it’s so special. When it’s over, you can’t go put on your pads and play a pick-up game. When it’s over, it’s over. I want to make kids understand that and really give them that love, passion and emotion for the game.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Westminster Football