WALTHAM, Mass. – Even as he found words and reasons to smile, Zack Magliaro couldn’t fully explain his grief. Why is he alive and Royston English isn’t?

They were both diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2009. “What are the odds of that?” Magliaro said softly. “Two teammates, both coming to Maine the same year. How can you figure that?”

The passing of English last week from lung cancer took many outside the immediate University of Maine football family by surprise. He was the indomitable running back and spirited teammate from a 2001 team that may have been one of Maine’s best. He didn’t smoke.

That Magliaro has battled his lymphoma will also come as a surprise. He was senior co-captain and 300-pound offensive tackle on that 2001 team, Atlantic-10 co-champions. His job was to push aside defenders enough to give the powerful English room to run.

“If you didn’t make your block quick enough and get out of his way, you could feel his head right in your back. That wasn’t fun.”

It was the rare linebacker who could bring the 5-foot-9, 220-pound English down on his own. Many times English was buried by several defenders. “You could hear that laugh of his from the bottom of the pile. I’ll never forget that. He was so strong, I was sure he was going to beat this.”

They were friends, but not best friends. They were best teammates.

Magliaro grew up in Beverly, Mass., and went to St. John’s Prep in nearby Danvers. English, born in Jamaica before his parents came to America, lived and played in Waltham, on the other side of Boston. Because English did a postgrad year at a prep school and a semester at Middlesex Community College, He was two years older than his captain.

“I didn’t know him,” said Magliaro. “I knew of him.” Everybody in eastern Massachusetts who followed high school football seemed to know English and his older brother, Rupert, who played linebacker at Boston College.

Some 20 months ago, Magliaro was on Facebook. He was dealing with his diagnosis. “I don’t know how you could not be scared.”

Maybe he was thinking of ways to tell friends of the sudden turn his life had taken. Maybe he simply wanted to be in touch. He went on English’s page. Royston had just posted news of his fundraiser. He was a personal trainer, an independent contractor to health clubs and his health coverage was limited.

Magliaro was stunned. “I couldn’t believe it. How was this possible? I sent him a message letting him know about my cancer. He called me the next day.”

Now they were teammates and cancer patients, sharing good days and bad. They were in their own treatment at the same time but in different hospitals. They talked of their side effects, their concern for each other.

“When you begin this, you can’t see the finish line. You don’t know where it is. The discipline I have from playing football helped me.”

Magliaro received his last radiation treatment in January of last year. Two months later doctors couldn’t find the cancer. “I’ve been in remission one year and one day,” said Magliaro on Friday. He had taken the day off from his job at Bank of America working with commercial clients on their credit needs. He wanted the time to gather his feelings.

Magliaro arrived at the memorial chapel more than an hour after the first mourner paused before the open casket. The line snaked through three rooms and two hallways for much of the four hours. The outpouring of sorrow and respect was one of the largest seen by this memorial chapel, I was told. The English family were givers and now their community was giving back.

Faces of all colors took their place at the end of the line. Magliaro walked in with teammate and linemate Chris McLaughlin of Gardiner. Bob Kierstad, the linebacker from South Portland, was there. Todd Jagoutz, the kicker and Jarrod Gomes, a defensive back. Jeff Commissiong, a former assistant coach, now on the staff at Boston College. The English family had asked Coach Jack Cosgrove to speak at Saturday’s funeral service and he was there. He embraced Rupert English Sr. for long moments, father to father.

Defensive linemen Dennis Dottin-Carter, now an assistant on Cosgrove’s staff and Antoine B. Smith, heading for a new assistant’s post at Holy Cross. Lofa Tatupu, now a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks and his wife, Rachael, sent a large spray of flowers. Tatupu posted a tribute to English on the Brasco & Sons Memorial Chapels website, acknowledging that he only played at Maine for his freshman season before transferring to the University of Southern California.

“Royston was one of those rare people that can leave a lasting impression in a matter of minutes. No matter how bad your day was going, you could count on going to practice and him making you laugh by either joking around, flashing that unforgettable smile or bellowing out that signature laugh of his.”

Six months ago, English prepared his friends and family for the end. An experimental treatment was not working.

Magliaro said his goodbye at his friend’s bedside about five months later. Difficult? You bet, even for a gentle big man who could spot the sunshine on a cloudy day.

“I’ll always remember one play. We were down near the end zone and I was on the ground. Royston was on top of me. His facemask and my facemark were touching and he says, ‘Touchdown, Zack! Touchdown!’

“And then he laughed.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com