Franklin Regional’s ‘Super’ Mario Sarnic happy to be back on field

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Saturday, October 10, 2020 | 11:01 AM


As Mario Sarnic lay motionless on the cold turf at Franklin Regional’s Panther Stadium, sound sucked from the complex, lights twinkling from a waiting ambulance, time stood still for the wide receiver and defensive back.

“I looked up and saw my friends and the look on their faces wasn’t good,” Sarnic said of the last regular season game of last season. “You could tell they were scared.”

Sarnic was trying to lead-block for teammate Colton Johns, who picked up a fumble and started to run, when a Penn-Trafford player collided with his leg. A bobbled snap went awry, and so did the final play of the first half.

One has to wonder, how scared was Sarnic?

“I felt it twist,” Sarnic said of his leg. “I went down. The whole thing just didn’t feel right. We almost lost the ball, it was a bad snap and we had guys all over the place. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground in pain.”

Sarnic quickly was surrounded by medical personnel, coaches and family. After about 30 minutes, he was wheeled off on a stretcher and taken immediately to Forbes Hospital in Monroeville before being transferred to Children’s Hospital.

His leg was broken.

What a way for his junior season — his first year of varsity football — to end.

“I have seen some freak accidents over the years,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “Some were career-ending for some guys. Based on what we saw, we were really concerned for Mario. You feel for a kid like that.”

Sarnic had surgery the next morning and was told the recovery would be long and painful — six months at the earliest before he could play football or wrestle again.

Football seemed like a distant memory as the rigors of rehab set in, but Sarnic made the journey confidently.

Fast forward to this season and suddenly, he’s Super Mario.

Watch him play and you can’t tell he was that same kid who was flat on his back in pain.

“I had so much support, from the night it happened and all the people around me, to now,” he said. “I felt bad for them because they all were so upset.”

The Panthers were distracted by their fallen teammate and collectively prayed for him. Nearly a year later, their prayers have been answered.

“I heard some of our guys were crying in the locker room,” Sarnic said. “I wanted to come back and play again for them.”

Sarnic is back in the huddle and making plays for the Panthers on offense, defense and special teams, where he fields punts and kicks.

Could he be even better as a senior?

“I didn’t expect a drop (in production),” he said.

The 5-foot-10, 166-pound Sarnic had 10 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown against Fox Chapel in a 42-20 win. The Panthers (3-1) are trying to get to the playoffs for a 17th straight time.

Sarnic has a team-best 17 catches for 208 yards.

“He prepared and followed orders and here he is, back in the game,” Botta said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but he really battled. He has become quite a threat for us on offense as a wideout, and he does a pretty good job as a weak-side safety.”

Sarnic had an interception in a 42-21 win over Connellsville.

Playing with no reservations or timidness, Sarnic tries to stay in the present as he runs routes and tries to bat pass attempts out of the air.

“I was cleared in four-and-a-half months,” he said. “I try not to think about (the injury). I’m not scared to to play, I just never want anybody to have to go through something like that.”

Sarnic played football until eighth grade, but broke his wrist and did not return to the game until last year.

“I knew I wanted to play again,” he said.

His mental transformation has had just as much of an impact on his return as the physical side, Sarnic said.

A safety net of support has helped his recovery.

“I had some anger issues,” Sarnic said. “One of my wrestling coaches, Tim Florian, helped me through a lot. I respect him the most out of all my coaches. It’s nice to have him in my corner.”

And the Panthers are glad Sarnic is back in theirs.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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