Mac Behe spent 10 years developing his skills as a football player, and he seemed to have the world at his feet entering his sophomore year at Penn Cambria High School.
Then, on a late August morning, it looked like it might be taken all away.
"I missed the tackle. He was behind me, and he made the tackle,'' teammate Devin Lawhead said. "Then the pile fell on top of him.
"I was in shock. He was screaming.''
Behe had fractured his femur, or thigh bone, so severely that the rest of the Panthers' scrimmage with Blairsville was cancelled and he was life-flighted him to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where he was told he wouldn't be able to play sports for a year and would be on crutches for six months.
After a lengthy and vigorous rehab period, Behe, however, is already back as good as - and he thinks even better - than ever. He enters Penn Cambria's game at Bishop Carroll on Friday night leading the Laurel Highlands Conference in tackles from his inside linebacker position.
"He's really a tough kid,'' Panthers coach Ernie Fetzer said.
A head coach for almost 30 years, Fetzer said he'd never seen a player injured so traumatically as Behe.
Behe, who started playing football when he was 5, was one of the stars of the Panthers' undefeated junior high team in 2009, and big things were expected of him on both sides of the ball in his first varsity season. But that all changed on the next to last play of the varsity portion of Penn Cambria's last scrimmage before the regular season began.
"I was making a tackle, and I just got caught in an awkward position. The kid I was tackling fell on me, as well as some of my teammates who were helping me make the tackle. They rolled onto my leg,'' Behe said.
Behe, who had never been seriously injured before, immediately knew something was wrong. He felt the worst pain he'd experienced in his entire life.
"I was really scared. I wasn't sure what happened,'' Behe said. "The pain was unbelievable. I actually wasn't sure if I was going to walk again. I was that scared about it.''
With good reason. Behe had sustained a butterfly fracture in his left leg, meaning the bone had broken up the middle of his leg almost to his hip.
That kind of fracture is particularly dangerous because it could cut the femoral artery. So Behe was taken by helicopter from Blairsville to Johnstown. He stayed in the hospital three days until the doctors were satisfied he was out of danger.
Behe's mother, Trisha, wasn't present when the injury happened. Always concerned about the possibility of injury from her son playing football but proud of how well he'd done at the sport, she found out about the alarming developments when she called her mother to see how the scrimmage was going.
"I was devastated. I was sick over it,'' Trisha Behe said. "Someone else answered [my mother's] phone and said that she was out on the field. I knew right then that it was bad.''
Although he was out of the woods insofar as his life was concerned, the road back to a normal life, let alone football, was going to be long and arduous. For two weeks, he stayed with his grandmother. He wasn't allowed to go back to school for six weeks. He wasn't able even to begin rehabilitation for three months while he was on crutches and walked with a noticeable limp for months after that.
Behe attended the Panthers' first game but had to leave for the hospital when he started to have spasms in his leg.
"You could tell he was upset,'' said Lawhead, a friend and teammate of Behe's since they played pee-wee football together for the Cresson Indians.
Fetzer said all the Panthers shared in Behe's pain, at least from a mental standpoint.
"It had an impact on our whole team for a long time,'' Fetzer said.
Once he could start, Behe began to take extra rehabilitation with special trainers in addition to his regular rehab. He used the experiences of one of his favorite NFL players, E.J. Henderson of the Minnesota Vikings, who went through a similar injury, as inspiration. All the while, Lawhead and his other teammates visited regularly to keep his spirits up.
"My friends helped me a lot,'' Behe said. "They came to my house. We'd talk about football and what was going on at school. That helped me a lot socially.''
Behe made good on his vow to be back for basketball season, seeing some action at the end of Penn Cambria's final game of the 2010-11 campaign. By summer, Lawhead and Fetzer noticed Behe was moving normally playing basketball.
"He's just a determined young man. He was determined to get back,'' Trisha Behe said.
Behe has 44 tackles through three games on one of the area's stingiest defenses. Penn Cambria has gotten off to a 2-1 start.
"He's very good,'' Lawhead said. "He's very quick and very good at reading offenses. We all pride ourselves on hitting hard.''
While he makes his bones - no pun intended - on defense, Behe also has been becoming a bigger factor in Penn Cambria's offense. He carried the ball for the first time last week against Central Cambria and finished with 49 yards on 10 carries while leading the team with three pass receptions.
"He plays everywhere,'' Fetzer said. "There hasn't been any flinching at all. He's come out of this thing very well.''
Behe said he doesn't even think of the injury anymore, except for the results he sees on the field.
"To tell you the truth, I think this made me a better player, because I never work so hard in the offseason before. All that training took me two steps beyond where I was,'' Behe said. "I always believed in myself that I'd get back to where I was, but I don't know that I'd go this far.''