NORFOLK, Va. -- Moments after Norfolk State's Sept. 13 loss at William & Mary, Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian was explaining how his team needed to address special teams mistakes when defensive coordinator Mark DeBastiani whispered in his ear.
His face went flush.
Kicker Cameron Marouf's mother, Nancy, who'd been waiting to receive a liver transplant and was a few weeks from coming up on a donor list, had ran out of time. She was 59.
Now four weeks later, Marouf, an only child whose father Sam immigrated from Iraq, has by all accounts adjusted well.
"She's basically my everything," said Marouf, a soft-spoken sophomore who dedicated the season to her. "She's going to be with me throughout the whole season."
Marouf missed two games -- one to be at Nancy's hospital bedside on the day she died and one for her funeral, a week later.
On the Monday after Nancy's death, Marouf showed up unexpectedly in Adrian's office, where the two talked for about 90 minutes.
He's since leaned on friends and teammates.
"That's a tough situation to go through," Adrian said. "I'm pleased to be able to try to help some, but a lot of people tried to help."
Marouf returned for the Spartans' 15-14 win against Morgan State on Sept. 27. He kicked field goals of 43, 26 and 44 yards, proving the difference in the MEAC opener while earning league special teams player of the week honors on Sept. 30.
Marouf's made 5 of 7 field-goal attempts this season, becoming an important weapon on a team that's offense has struggled to finish drives.
And he wouldn't even be kicking if not for his mother.
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“Who knows? You might get a scholarship.”
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During high school, Marouf was a versatile soccer player. Mainly a goal-scoring forward, he'd drop back to midfield or fullback when his coaches asked.
Before his junior year, his mother urged him to use his strong leg to give football a shot.
"Who knows?" she said. "You might get a scholarship."
Marouf, 5-foot-9, 160-pounds, made Forest Park High's football team and began attracting the attention of a few college coaches.
He and linebacker Jonathan Okafor, a childhood friend and teammate at Forest Park, decided to go to NSU as what Marouf called "a package deal." He earned a full scholarship after being forced into action by Ryan Lee's knee injury.
"I love her," he said about his mother talking him into playing football. "If I didn't, I don't know where I would be."
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“She was a great lady, very nice and kindhearted. It's sad that she's gone now. ”
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In the hallway outside the Spartans' locker room the night Nancy died, several players were weeping openly as they comforted each other.
Marouf's teammates were well aware of the situation since, on the weekend of NSU's final home game of 2013, Nancy told her son and husband that something was wrong.
When Nancy died, Marouf texted linebacker Deon King, who helped spread the word.
"As a team, we're a family, so we had to really come together," King said.
Okafor, whose known Marouf since he was in the third grade, said he's helped his friend get by in his darkest hours, even as he's felt the loss himself.
"She was a great lady, very nice and kindhearted," Okafor said. "A great mother, too. It's sad that she's gone now."
Before the Morgan State game, NSU kicking coach Mike Daly told Adrian he thought Marouf was ready to play.
Daly said the most important thing Marouf's coaches and teammates could do for him was create a normal, stable environment.
"I'm sure when things are quiet [and] he's in his room and he has some quiet time, I guess that's when you start reflecting and internalizing some things," Daly said. "But for the most part -- and I'm watching him -- he's doing well."
Marouf continues to call on his football support system as he kicks his way through a trying time. He said he had no choice but to return to the team quickly. Despite an urge to stay home and comfort his father, it's what Nancy would've wanted.
"To be honest," Marouf said, "my mom, she would be on my butt, saying, 'Why aren't you down there?' "