After a year in agony, when a knee injury he sustained while sliding wiped out his junior baseball season, Tanner Mahon's smile has returned, along with the happy-go-lucky personality, not to mention the near-perfect senior season he is experiencing at Studio City Campbell Hall High.
"I've been lucky to live an awesome life, but that was without a doubt the hardest thing I had to go through," Mahon said of the torn posterior cruciate ligament. "I had so many dreams and aspirations taken away in one second. I would do anything to wake up for 7 a.m. practices. It was really, really hard."
Mahon feared the worst, going down at the most important part of college recruiting, unable to pitch or hit during the spring or summer.
Fast forward to this week and the final games of the regular season. He hasn't given up an earned run in 43 innings with a fastball in the mid-80s. He's also hitting .439 with 38 RBIs for a 19-2-1 team that is ranked No. 2 in Southern Section Division 6.
He has committed to one of the best academic schools on the East Coast, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where he hopes to use his 4.0 grade-point average and love for writing to prepare for a profession of writing like his mother, who works for People magazine.
But when is his mom going to put him on the cover?
"Hopefully next year, sexiest man alive," he said.
At 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds, the 18-year-old is an example of how overcoming adversity can strengthen one's resolve and be turned into a positive.
"I really thought that was going to be it," he said. "I've always had a lot of confidence, but there was little left."
The injury occurred when he made an awkward slide into second base last season.
"Right away it was a pain I had never felt before," he said. "It was horrible. I heard a pop. The trainer said he's never seen a basketball or baseball player hurt their PCL before. I guess it was impressive on my part."
He went through eight months of rehabilitation without surgery. He's had a series of injuries in high school, from a broken hand to a strained back. "You'd think I'm a 35-year-old man," he said jokingly.
Everything, though, has worked out this season to the point he's pitching with complete confidence.
"I love it," he said.
The interesting part is how does a teenager who's been usually positive get back up when knocked down?
"It feels so amazing," he said. "I'm having so much fun and I know how much a gift it is and quickly it can go away. I'm proud how quickly I was able to turn it around."
Fan support for Campbell Hall is growing. Parents are showing up to hand out popsicles and hot chocolate to other parents and there are so many cameras and GoPros attached to fences that if anything happens, the school won't have to worry about finding a replay.
Mahon has played travel ball with several Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Studio City Harvard-Westlake players. He's attended Campbell Hall since seventh grade. He has no qualms about going to play Division III baseball in college next season.
Coach Brad Himes offered a tale about Mahon.
"While Tanner was rehabbing last year, I was walking back to the office and saw him playing catch with one of his teammates in a knee brace,'' he said. "I walk over, 'Tanner be careful.'
"'[Mahon said] I know coach, but I have to get ready so I can be with my teammates.'
"Tanner is the definition of a leader and has truly earned everything he has accomplished this year."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.