NCF Nation: Bill Maresh

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Meant to link this Wednesday, but got tied up with interviews, practices, driving, etc.

Minnesota linebacker Sam Maresh is making medical history this spring, becoming the first player to return to major college football after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery. 

Maresh returned to practice March 24 less than nine months having surgery at the Mayo Clinic and less than two months after a growth was discovered in his right calf. 

Maresh is a truly unique kid with an amazing comeback story, and I hope I did it justice. 

The real interesting thing to watch will be when he plays and how much. Maresh, a heralded recruit, clearly feels like he can compete at the highest level, but Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster admits he's cautious about pushing the freshman too hard.

You can't blame Brewster, who had no previous reference point in a case like Maresh's. It will be up to Maresh to show he's healthy enough to compete for major playing time. 

"A lot of people may think I might hold back a little bit, with my heart surgery and stuff like that," Sam said. "But I'm going to go out there and treat it like I've always played football." 

It also will be interesting to see if Maresh's story will prompt other high school athletes to have more physical exams. Maresh had only one his freshman year of high school and was playing football with a serious heart condition. He had no symptoms until his physical June 2 at Minnesota. 

"That might be something from this, to be able to look at it and say, 'You know what? We better have them every year,'" said Sam's father, Bill, who coaches wrestling and football at Champlin Park High School in Minnesota.

No matter what, Sept. 12 will be a very emotional day for Maresh, his family and the Gophers program, as he leads the team onto the field for its first game at TCF Bank Stadium. 

Thanks to Maresh and his family for sharing their story, as well as Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster and other program officials for their help while I was there. 

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