A dropped ball or false start penalty, things Andrew Szczerba used to beat himself up over, were made to look so trivial, so miniscule in the grand scheme of things, almost four weeks ago.
Early on Sept. 16, his uncle, New Castle County Police Sgt. Joseph Szczerba, was stabbed to death while trying to apprehend a suspect near New Castle, Del.
Despite the tragedy, Penn State’s starting tight end suited up and played in the team’s 14-10 win over Temple at Lincoln Financial Field less than 36 hours later and has started every game since.
“Right now, I’m just taking it day by day,” Szczerba, a senior, said Wednesday, speaking to the media for the first time since his uncle’s passing.
“I have moments where you sit back and you think about him and you just really miss talking to him … I don’t think anybody in my family is ever going to be completely at peace with everything. We definitely miss him a lot.”
Szczerba, a Wilmington, Del. native and Salesianum High School graduate, said he never even thought about sitting out against Temple. His uncle was one of his biggest fans and actually had planned on going to the game. Szczerba caught two passes for 13 yards against the Owls and laid down a key block on a Silas Redd touchdown run.
“I know that he would want me to play,” Szczerba said of his uncle, who was only 44-years-old and was an 18-year veteran of the police force. “He wanted in the worst way to see me play this season, so I know he was watching over me and he definitely got to see me play at Temple. I wanted to play for him and also for my family.”
When tragedy struck his family, his “Penn State family” provided support to their teammate. Szczerba said support from his teammates and coaches meant a lot.
Having a strong and close-knit family at home and keeping busy with school and football has also helped him get through this tough time over the past few weeks. He said he is doing pretty well and his main concern is his grandmother and his aunt. He added that what happened still doesn’t seem “real,” but he is sure it will sink in eventually.
What has registered is a renewed outlook on life. Szczerba missed last season with an injured back. Suddenly, the disappointment of things like not being able to play might not seem like the end of the world. There are bigger things in life than sports, after all. As Szczerba put it, “at the end of the day, it’s a game.”
“Obviously, you put a lot of time, you put a lot of effort and sacrifice into preparing for a team to win a game. You want to go out there and do well your family, friends, fans everything,” he said. “But at the end of the day, going through real-life difficulties besides football really helps you kind of calm down a little bit and realize that it’s not the end of the world if we don’t get a first down. Or it’s not the end of the world if you accidentally drop a pass or whatever. You’ve just got to line back up the next play and do your best.”