LONG BEACH — Mark Seay did not attend a children's party this Halloween. "My sister and I talked about having one and then we thought, 'Oh, no, remember what happened the last time,' " said the Cal State Long Beach football player who was shot by a suspected gang member at such a party two years ago as he shielded his 2-year-old niece.
Seay, who lost a kidney as a result of the shooting, said he is happy to be back on the field after missing a season. But he still feels betrayed by university officials who told him last year that he could not play because the risk of damaging his other kidney was too great. He is playing now only after taking legal action against the university.
The junior wide receiver will finish his comeback season Saturday when the 49ers play Nevada Las Vegas in Veterans Stadium. Seay is among the top receivers in the Big West Conference with 45 catches for 709 yards. He has caught four touchdown passes. Last Saturday, he caught a two-point conversion pass that defeated Cal State Northridge, 25-24.
"I'm not satisfied, but it's gone pretty good," Seay said. "If I don't perform the way I should, if I'm not happy, I always think about the time when I thought I'd never be playing again."
Long Beach Coach George Allen said: "He's an example for all of us, what I call a solid citizen. He's a leader. One of the highlights of my coaching career is having a guy like Mark Seay on my team."
The only difference Seay has noticed in playing football with one kidney rather than two is the extra protective equipment he must wear. "I put on a pad that protects my back area and my hip, and then I put on a flak jacket," he said. "At first I just wanted to yank it off because I was the type of player who wore as few pads as I could get away with."
But he is glad he has kept it on.
"I've never been hit as hard as I've been hit this year," said Seay, who is 6 feet tall and 175 pounds. "I've taken my share of hits."
Only once, in a game in Jack Murphy Stadium against San Diego State, was he worried: "A guy was on top of my back and slammed me into the infield area where it's all dirt. I coughed up some blood. That was scary. But I didn't think it had to do anything with my kidney."
Seay has detected a tendency in people to think that when he makes a mistake in a game it must be related to his disability.
In a game against New Mexico State, an embarrassed Seay caught a kickoff and, thinking he was in the end zone instead of on the two-yard line, dropped to one knee and downed the ball. "Some of the (assistant) coaches didn't think I was myself, I think simply because of what happened to my kidney," Seay said. "It made me angry. They kept asking me how I felt. I felt great. I just didn't know where I was. It could have happened to anybody."
Seay said he has a urine test after each game and has had one 24-hour creatinine clearance test--a measure of kidney function. "They said I was fine," he said.
Trainer Dan Bailey said last week that he could not discuss Seay's kidney tests because, he said, Seay never signed a consent, as most players do, for release of medical information to the media.
Seay has chosen to play despite the prospect of having to be hooked to a dialysis machine should his remaining kidney be damaged.
"I think about that all the time," he said. "It could happen, nothing's promised to you in this world. But I'm 23 years old and I'm not going to let anyone dictate my life. I was cheated out of one (kidney), if I'm going to lose this one I'm not going to be cheated. I'm going to end up losing it doing something I want to do."
The quiet, introspective Seay, who grew up in San Bernardino, has been besieged with interview requests. He realizes he will probably always be known for having one kidney rather than for his football playing ability. "I didn't ask for any of this," he said. "A lot of times I don't know what to do with it. I'm not the type of guy who likes being in the spotlight."
But one has shined brightly on him nonetheless.
He seems perplexed by the national acclaim he received for saving his niece. "I never have thought of myself as a hero," he said. "I'd like to know who made up the word hero, because really I don't know what it is. I look at myself as I did before this even happened. I am what I am, I'm nothing more or nothing less. If they want to keep calling me a hero, and that's what makes them happy, fine."
When Seay awoke in the hospital after his kidney was removed, he wondered if he would play football again. He said university officials, including President Curtis McCray and Athletic Director Corey Johnson, visited him. "They said, 'We hope you make it back, we're behind you 100%,' " Seay recalled. "I felt good because these people were among the reasons I came to this university."