By Justin Fedich, Times Herald Record, originally posted Sept 28th, 2019
NEWBURGH — The touchdown, a run up the middle from inside the 5-yard line to turn a 27-0 shutout into a 27-7 loss with 21 seconds on the clock, wasn’t met with fireworks, a cannon blast or even a raucous cheer. But make no mistake, it was the most meaningful end-zone trip of the night.
“It was amazing,” said the kid who ran the ball. “Honestly. Scoring, I almost started crying.”
On June 29, at a holiday barbecue, Luke Pecovic suffered a seizure. It came out of nowhere for the otherwise healthy Washingtonville football player. What was once a summer of recruiting visits for the senior suddenly turned into a matter of life or death. Pecovic was rushed to the hospital, where he had brain surgery to remove a parasite that had gotten infected and swollen. As soon as he awoke from the procedure, his first question to Dr. Carrie Muh at Westchester Medical Hospital was, “When can I play football?”
The diagnosis, toxoplasmosis, wasn’t as dire as it could have been. The parasite had lodged itself on the surface of the brain, rendering the surgery invasive but not harmful to Pecovic’s long-term outlook. After the 6-foot-3, 220-pound running back/linebacker spent a week awkwardly roaming the children’s ward, he returned home feeling like his usual self. Still, there was uncertainty about whether he was fully healthy or if this was an issue that would persist. Pecovic’s father, Vinny, calls the waiting period “three weeks of hell for us.”
On Sept. 16, Muh called to lift the weight of dread off the family, explaining to them that Pecovic was all clear. He just needed the green light to play football again. After sitting out the first three games, Pecovic learned Thursday he would finally be able to get on the field the following night against Newburgh. Head coach Anthony Finochio delivered the news.
“You could tell he had that anxiety,” Finochio said, “waiting to see if it could go either way.”
Pecovic started screaming in the locker room, then joined his teammates, who burst into jubilation with him. Throughout the ordeal, the chance to play football again was always top of mind for the bruising back who runs right into the teeth of contact. Before the surgery, his mother, Monique, recalls him saying, “Let’s just get it done. Let’s move forward. I’ve got to get back to football.”
“Never shed a tear,” Monique said. “Never complained. Nothing.”
High up in the visitors bleachers before Pecovic receives his first carry (Finochio had said he would play sparingly but Pecovic finished with 22 carries for 105 yards and that touchdown), Vinny describes the grueling summer he and his family endured. With daughters Alyssa and Victoria in college, it’s just Luke and his parents. Vinny reflects on some of the doubts that crept into his head. “You never thought he was going to play football again,” he says with tears in his eyes.
After recounting the story, he scans the sidelines looking for his son. Then, Vinny realizes that Luke just touched the ball for the first time all season. “He just ran the ball,” Vinny says, staring at his son and pausing to process the moment, before repeating, “He just ran the ball.”
When Pecovic breaks through the line of scrimmage for his first sizeable gain, Vinny stands up in the back row and unleashes a “Yeah!” that carries with it months’ worth of pain and triumph.
Vinny explains that Luke “won the lotto in the worst way,” not only surviving a scare but returning to his passion so soon after.
Pecovic admitted he was afraid at times, but it was never about death. What made him almost cry was the possibility, as he succinctly describes it, “That I couldn’t play this year.”
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