More Story: Will Mahone finds peace after Notre Dame


Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

On Sunday morning, we published a feature story on Will Mahone, who left the Notre Dame football team after being arrested in summer 2014 and has since made strides to improve his life.

But there was more to the story than what made the final cut. Here's more context from Mahone and those close to him on his journey from South Bend to his current course at Youngstown State.

Will Mahone

On being approved to walk on at Youngstown State:

“The process has been slow, which I actually feel is in my favor. I’m working right now and I’m also going to school full time, 18 credits, so I can be eligible. It’s given me time to get on my feet and maybe build some momentum going into things — being trustworthy with my new situation and how I’m handling things. I’ve been training and working hard.”

On his mother's influence in him committing to Notre Dame:

“It was very important. It was everything. She’s the one that supported me. I knew that it was the best of both worlds. I was definitely taking into consideration what she thought.”

On his relationship with his mother, Celia Mahone:

“That’s my best friend. She devoted her life to raising me and has been a great mother – one that has worked super hard her whole life. She doesn’t depend on the government, welfare checks, everything like that. She works super hard (as a nurse), and I think that’s where I get my motivation and work ethic from. I think she’s been the most proud of me during the last year, doing Teen Challenge and seeing the transformation that I’ve had. She’s just proud of me that I’m back on track with my faith and trusting the lord for everything. That’s my best friend and I just hope I can give her a fraction of what she’s given me.”

On his freshman season at Notre Dame:

“It was a roller coaster ride. My freshman year, I came in and expected to play. But I realized that we had Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George (Atkinson III) all in front of me. I didn’t realize how difficult a college football playbook was. In high school we had maybe 10 plays. I knew the plays like that. When I got to college, you had to learn the defenses. I was lost in the chalk. It was my mistake. I really wasn’t in the playbook like I should have been, but I really wanted to play."

On his mentality after getting injured in spring 2014:

“I get back from the (left foot) injury, and then the first day of spring practice the next year, I break my right foot. At that point, I’m just like, ‘All right, I’m probably never going to play.’ I’m seeing guys like Torii Hunter Jr. come, and they’re balling. I see Will Fuller, and I think, ‘I’m going to get passed up. This sucks.’"

On his injury issues:

“That was different for me, and I really didn’t know how to handle that from a mental standpoint. That wasn’t the way the book was supposed to be written, in my mind. I wasn’t prepared for it.”

On his mindset after being arrested and parting ways with Notre Dame:

"I didn’t know what I was going to do with life and I didn’t care, because a lot of my best friends were a part of the problem. My mom kicked me out of the house because I wasn’t doing right, and I just didn’t care what was going on with my life. I was going to just go to jail and do my time and be done with it.”

On his mother kicking him out of the house:

"As a mom, me being her only son, it definitely hurt her. But we just didn’t talk and I didn’t care. I know she was praying for me. It was an ugly situation and I just didn’t care.”

On his year at Teen Challenge:

“It actually went so fast. A year is a short period of time to get rid of an addiction. I’m perfectly fine with saying I had an addiction.”

On coming to terms with his anger and disappointment:

“I don’t think it’ll ever be flushed out. It’s how I deal with it now, my perspective on it. I was dealing with it in all the wrong ways. I was trying to mask it with some drinking and some weed and getting down on myself.”

On graduating from Teen Challenge:

“Every month, you go to a graduation. I can remember every graduation, sitting in the crowd, being like, ‘That’s going to be me soon.’ I remember one graduation in particular. This guy Charlie who worked at the center, a great man of God, we stay in contact. After his speech and everything, his daughter ran up into his arms. Man, I think everybody in that church was bawling. I’ve never seen so many grown men cry before. I was crying. I think that was the second graduation I saw. I said, ‘Man, I got to finish this. I got to be on that stage and talk about what God has done in my life and the transformation that has happened.’”

On his emotions during his graduation from Teen Challenge:

“I cried during that, just because I appreciated the support from my mom throughout the whole process. A lot of guys, their families have only been to rehab a couple times. It’s done a lot of damage to their families. Some guys, their family may not come to their graduation. They may not come to see them each and every month and support like my mom did. I’m just so thankful that she’s been with me this whole time.”

On his current relationship with his mother:

“We have probably the best relationship we’ve had since…I don’t know when. It might be forever.”

On not being tempted to fall back into his old habits:

“I just feel blessed. I think one of the first nights I got home I was laying in bed and I was like, ‘Man, things aren’t the same. I don’t even have the desire to hit up old friends and do any of the things I used to do. What would be the point? Even if I went and smoked a joint or drank a little bit, what kind of character would that show? I’d be lying to myself. That’s the biggest mistake I could make. I really haven’t had any temptation."

On his priorities at Youngstown State:

“I’m focused on working and making some cash for myself and being an independent man and going from a boy to a man. I really want to give football one more shot. I’m working hard so everything lines up the way I want. For me, drinking and smoking is not part of that equation.”

On how his year at Teen Challenge changed him:

“I am different. I don’t even really listen to the same music that I listened to before. I don’t hang out with the same people. I don’t talk the same. Now, I hear some people talk, and every other word is a cuss word. I’m like, ‘Man, did I talk like that?’"

On seeing his former Notre Dame teammates going to the NFL:

“It definitely motivates me to give (football) one last go, because I was just with these guys. With what they’re doing, who’s to say I can’t do it, too?”

Celia Mahone

On how her relationship with Will has changed:

"I couldn't talk to him. No. He didn't want to hear anything you had to say. Part of it, I believe, is that he knew I was right. I was his age at one time and I know everything my mom would tell me eventually I knew was right. It wasn't much of a relationship, and when we talked it was because he needed something. That would be about it. Today we had a very good conversation before he left for work. He initiated it. It's the relationship I would have wanted to have with him all along."

On Will's personality as a kid:

"Even as a baby, he was just wonderful. He was such a good kid. He called me at a friend's house in fifth or sixth grade and said, 'I think you need to come get me. They're getting ready to watch a movie that I know you don't want me to watch.' I would say, 'What movie? Tell me.' As a born-again Christian I was very cautious of what I let go in front of his eyes and in his ears. I would say, 'You're right! I'm on my way.'"

On their recruiting visit to Notre Dame:

“The first player we met after getting on campus was Matthias (Farley), and I was totally taken with Matthias. I thought, ‘If he’s going to be around young men like this, this is where I want him to be.’”

“I just am in love with Matthias. I told his mom, ‘Look, all these people tell you they love Matthias, but I’m telling you, no one loves him more than I do.’ I used to be on my way back home from a game and I would get a text message from him telling me to be careful.”

On the mental and emotional toll Will's injuries had on him:

“I think it was harder than he was letting on to anyone else. I knew. I know William. For years, I have tried to instill in him that you have got to have more in your life than football, than your job. You can’t live for any one thing. You live for God, and God puts everything in perspective. So when these things are taken from you, you’re able to survive.”

On her response when she heard Will had been arrested:

"I knew immediately. I said, ‘Oh, well. That’s it. He won’t be at Notre Dame anymore.”

On Will's arrest:

“For a long time, I thought, ‘I’m going to wake up and this is a dream. But it wasn’t.”

On the decision to kick Will out of the house:

“Sometimes I’m accused of being too hard on him, but I pray about everything, and I just knew I had to do it. You can’t live in my home and continue doing this. You just can’t.”

“I knew he was going to be OK. When? I don’t know. But I knew, eventually, things were going to be OK.”

On why Will abused alcohol and marijuana:

“I feel like he was medicating himself. William was so caught up into being this football star and realizing that it was not happening.”

On seeing his former Notre Dame teammates succeed on the field without him:

“My heart breaks for him still. He’s probably more OK than I am. I see some of his friends going to the NFL and I wonder how he feels. He says he’s OK.”

On her optimism for Will's future:

“I can’t even put into words how proud of him I am and how expectant I am of great things from him.”

Pastor Bob Pavlich

On Will embracing Teen Challenge:

"When you're living a certain life for so long, you're not going to immediately say, 'I'm excited to come and do a 12- to 14-month program, be around all kinds of men and get ready to start serving Jesus.' That just doesn't happen. But right away Will seemed to jump in."

On Will flourishing in the Teen Challenge program:

"Probably about two months into the program, we started seeing the natural-born leader that he is, those characteristics shine in him. He was excelling in his studies. He was not afraid to share his testimony. He joined the choir, and Will started traveling with myself on Sundays and weekends, going to humongous events with 50 people to 500 people — sharing his testimony, talking about how his life changed. Will started going to schools and the kids naturally started attracting to him. This was only four or five months into the program."

On how Will serves as an example in the community:

"Now we keep in touch with Will all the time. He's graduated. He still comes back to the center. He speaks to our men. He goes around Youngstown speaking to different groups. It's just an awesome, awesome testimony and story of how, for someone who really gives an effort towards changing, the sky's the limit for what can happen in their life."

On Will discovering an identity outside of football:

"With or without football, Will Mahone is going to be a positive, productive member of society, he's going to be a good husband one day, he's going to be a great father one day. He's finally the son that his mom has been praying for, and he's going to be a role model to the younger people that are looking up to him. Once he has found what his true identity is, then everything else is just a blessing."

On Will's graduation from Teen Challenge:

"It was powerful. It gave you goosebumps. He was able to share his testimony with all the men in our program and everyone that day also."

Phil Annarella, head football coach at Fitch High School

On Will's transformation:

"We talk about how it takes years to build a reputation. It only takes one mistake to tear it down. Unfortunately he's found that out, but he recognizes it and he's man enough to own up to it. That's the kind of young man he is. We've been in touch the last couple years since everything's happened. We've been very much in communication. I went to that graduation at Teen Challenge and heard him speak and was just in awe of the great job he did. I really believe he's got his head on straight now. He seems to be on the right path again. He's the old Will."

On attending Will's Teen Challenge graduation:

"It was just awe-inspiring. I just was so proud of him. I couldn't have been more proud of him if I was his dad. I sat with his mom and I know the feelings were running through her at that time. She's always been a very loving, caring disciplinarian mother. I always thought she did a great job as a single mom raising him and I know she was feeling tremendous that day, and I was too. They put him on last to speak purposely. He has just matured a great bit. I know that everyone that sat there and heard him was moved by his speech, and it was very heartfelt. I just love him to death and am wishing him the best."

On if Will can make a difference in people's lives:

"I think he can, because he's lived it. He's walked the walk. He's done the right things and he's done some wrong things. He was a very talented and gifted athlete, and I think that in itself gets the hook in to his audience — whoever that may be. I think he can have a big impact on a lot of young people."

On the Will Mahone he sees today:

"I see the Will I've always known, that I loved in high school. Will always carried himself well around his coaches, his teachers. I didn't see personally that bad side of him. I never really saw that. What I see now is what I always saw in high school when he played ball here. I see the young man with that smile on his face. That's Will. When you see that smile, he can light up a room. I just love him to death and I'm praying that everything works out for him."

On the impact he can make on the team at Youngstown State:

"I think the biggest thing that he would add at this point would be that maturity level. A lot of these guys right now that are playing college ball may not be to that level maturity-wise yet. He's there. I just see that he'll be a genuine leader, whether he's starting or not starting. I just think he'd be a really positive influence in all ways."

Ernest Jones, former Notre Dame director of player development

On Will's adaptation to the college lifestyle:

“I’m happy to hear that he’s turning his life around. Will was a great kid. I remember going through the recruiting process, single parent, his mom was doing her best to raise him the right way. He had to adapt to Notre Dame. Notre Dame isn’t the type of place where everyone can just walk in and be all right. It took some time for him to adapt, same as it did for a number of kids.”

Portrait of former Notre Dame football player and current Youngstown State University student Will Mahone at Youngstown State University on February 18, 2016. (Photo by Scott R. Galvin)