While Nick Muha may have finished his senior season as one of the best baseball players in Middlesex County, he started out with much more modest goals.
"I just wanted to be able to stand up straight," Muha said.
At the start of his junior year, Muha was a three-sport varsity athlete for South Brunswick High School. That changed in November of 2010.
As Muha recalls, he was warming up for a football game against East Brunswick when he felt the pain in his back. Being a competitive guy and excited about the game at hand, Muha still elected to play.
"I played until I couldn't even walk anymore," Muha said. "I went off the field to the hospital."
Muha had a herniated disc. His football season was over. His basketball season was over before it even began. Muha no longer could use his 6' 2" height, let alone get any thrust on his jumps.
"I was all hunched over," Muha noted. "I still thought I'd be back for baseball. I got one at bat in a scrimmage game. I took one swing and then I had this instant pain. It was decided that night that I had to have surgery."
A disc in Muha's back was pushing against a nerve. According to Muha, it effected him all the way to his toes. The surgeons scraped the disc, creating a separation from the nerve.
"Before that, I was hunched over, couldn't stand up straight," Muha noted. "An hour after the surgery, I was able to stand. From that point on, it was a matter of rehab and getting my strength back."
According to Muha, the biggest problem area was in his ankle and toes. He had maintained his upper body strength.
"I had still lifted and worked out after the injury," Muha said. "That was probably not the smartest thing in the world (laughs)."
It just showed how much Muha wanted to get back on the field. By July, he was representing South Brunswick High School in a summer baseball league.
"At first, they didn't want me hitting," Muha recalled. "I played the outfield a little here and there. Then, I got a few at bats. We were just gradually building it up. To be able to come back from that injury was the greatest feeling in the world."
To get back playing during the school year took a little longer.
"I didn't play football," Muha said. "If it was up to me, I probably would have. My parents and doctors made that decision. It was the right call.
Muha was back in the starting lineup for the basketball team.
"Practices started the day after Thankgiving," Muha recalled of the basketball season. "By that time, I had been out of high school sports for over a year. It was so great to be able to get back out there."
Of course, the best was yet to come.
Since the time he was 4, Muha recalled being out on his front yard playing wiffle ball with his father. He played t-ball and joined the various travel baseball teams offered by the South Brunswick Athletic Association. He wanted to play baseball his senior year at high school. Unfortunately, there was one concession Muha had to make. The lifelong catcher needed to find a new position. Muha had gone through too much rehab and missed time to take any unnecessary risks.
"One of the things that helped make the decision easier is we had two great catchers on the roster," said Muha, who became an outfielder.
What South Brunswick really needed was Nick Muha's bat. After a slow start, it showed up and never went away. Muha batted .526, with 36 RBI, 24 runs scored, five homers, eight doubles and four triples. He had a .934 slugging average.
"He is an unbelievable kid, who had the best offensive season I have have been a part of," South Brunswick High Manager Tim Sweeney said. "He definitely deserves some recognition for the things he accomplished this season."
Muha was named a First Team All-Star for both the Red Division and Greater Middlesex Conference.
"There's just no words to describe what this year meant to me," Muha said. "And I started slow, batting .183 after my first six games. At that point, I wasn't expecting to have the season I had."
Muha recalls taking off offensively in back-to-back games against Edison. Around the same time, the team also turned around a slow start and won 10 games in a row. Ironically, now that Muha is back physically and playing the best baseball of his life, his athletic career might be over.
The injury kept college scouts away. Muha will be going to Penn State, where he will major in mechanical engineering.
"I thought about trying to walk on the baseball team at Penn State, but I decided to focus on academics," Muha said. "I might look for a place to play next summer and also do some intramurals, but at this point I'm probably done."
At least this way, Muha has some say in his finish. He's not bent over, beaten down by an injury.
"After everything I went through, it ended in a good place," Muha said. "It feels good to know what I accomplished. Going back to last year, who even knew if I would be able to play baseball again. I was able to get back on the field gain. It's also nice to be able to stand up straight again. It's all a blessing."