Maurice Bertrand, 53, makes a tackle during the Johnson C. Smith game
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa. – Over a year ago, Maurice Bertrand (Yonkers, N.Y./Cherry Hill HS) was fighting, not just for a spot on the football field, but for his life.
A typical summer break is filled with trips out of town, visits to the shore, block party celebrations, and graduations to name a few. Some students look forward to this time off after enduring the rigors of the academic school year. Maurice decided to spend June 26, 2011 at a memorial barbeque in Camden, N.J. dedicated to a teenage friend who passed away crossing a highway.
He had spent the previous Sunday, Father's Day, in church with his father. The two at times are inseparable. The bond between this father and son duo is inseparable. Maurice begged his father to teach him how to play football ever since he was 10 years-old and was struck with a baseball. Tyrone Bertrand, a Shaw University graduate, played defensive back for the Bears.
But on this Sunday, Maurice wanted to pay tribute to his friend.
“Maurice usually would have been at church, but this Sunday I told him I would let him go to the barbeque,” Tyrone R. Bertrand, Maurice's father, said.
Once Maurice arrived at the barbeque, he was tasked with buying barbeque sauce from the neighborhood store. While walking to the local store, Maurice noticed something disturbing.
“I saw a person at the barbeque getting jump by a group of about five guys,” Maurice said.
Instead of ignoring the situation, Maurice assumed the role of “Good Samaritan' and broke up the fight. At the time, everyone scattered and things were back to normal or so they seemed.
Maurice continued walking to the store and about 20 minutes later he finally purchased the sauce. Realizing everyone at the barbeque was probably getting restless for the sauce, Maurice began his journey back.
What happens next is like a scene from a movie.
Maurice noticed something familiar about a group of guys packed in a car. As soon as he realized who they were, the car took off after him. One of the guys in the vehicle noticed it was Maurice. Seconds later, a person emerged from the back seat of the vehicle with a gun and began firing.
As the car raced away, Maurice fell to the ground.
Tyrone Bertrand, a retired Army National Guardsman, was one of the first responders during the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. Unbeknownst to him at the time, his son's life would rely on similar actions by others. People and friends ran to Maurice's rescue, performing first aid using the shirts from their body to stop the bleeding.
“I was bleeding excessively,” Maurice said. “The last thing I remember saying was I am not going to make it.”
Fortunately, Maurice did make it.
He was rushed to Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J., and later transferred to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia where he woke up for the first time and saw loved ones at his bedside. While Maurice might have doubted his chances of surviving, a person close to him was confident he would make it through.
“I felt like he was going to make it because of his fighting spirit, intestinal fortitude, and his belief in God,” Tyrone Bertrand said.
A number of family members, friends, coaches, and Lincoln University staff members visited Maurice at the hospital, while teammates Tim Green (Fanwood, N.J./Scotch Plains-Fanwood HS) and Michael Adjei (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge HS) called frequently.
“Maurice has been one of my closest friends outside of football,” Adjei said. “I called him every day to see how he was doing.”
Maurice began to make progress at Thomas Jefferson Hospital and was later sent to a rehabilitation center in Marlton, N.J., where he had to re-learn how to use his hands, walk, and bathe. Three weeks later, he was discharged from the rehabilitation center using crutches. Maurice said he initially was not going to return to school, but in his mind, he did not want to fail himself.
Returning to Lincoln University in August 2011 presented numerous challenges. According to Maurice, the doctors told him his chances of playing football again were slim. However, Lincoln University defensive coordinator, Herb Pickens said he was confident Maurice would one day return to the field because of his determination and work ethic.
“I knew what Maurice goals were,” Pickens said. “The first thing he told me when he left the hospital was don't count me out, coach. When he returned to school, he wanted to be treated like everyone else. He didn't want any special accommodations.”
During the fall semester Maurice, an information technology major, worked hard in the classroom and in the athletic training room. He served as a mentor for other student-athletes and cheered his teammates from the sideline. By December, Maurice's hard work had paid off as he was now walking without his crutches.
“Mr. Chris (Vigneault) and the athletic trainers were instrumental in helping me walk without the crutches,” Maurice said. “They did an excellent job working with me.”
In early March, he was once again back in pads at spring training camp. If re-learning simple motor skills like gripping, clinching, walking, and bathing were challenges for him, just imagine re-learning football drills.
“In my head, I thought I might have to hang it up,” Maurice said. “After about a week, I learned how to control the situation.”
Fast forward to now, and Maurice is one of the student-athletes controlling Lincoln's devasting defensive line, registering eight tackles. According to Maurice and his father, to their knowledge, the assailants were never apprehended by law enforcement. However, he has no regrets about his decision to intervene on that summer day.
"If I had to do it again, I would intervene like I did," Maurice said. "If I was in his shoes, I would want someone to do the same thing for me."
#53 Maurice Bertrand
Defensive LinemanSenior6'2"280 lbsYonkers, N.Y. / Shaw Information Technology