PHOTO COURTESY OF AMERICAN BOY PROJECT

Matt Megale, 26, died of a drug overdose in March 2017. His family started the American Boy Project and — with the help of Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan, who played at UVA with Matt's father Larry — organized Sunday's American Boy Fall Brawl event.

American Boy Project on Mission to Aid Those Struggling with Drug Addiction


A silent gravity surrounded Tom Hurley as he addressed players and fans at the American Boy Fall Brawl last Sunday in Hudson, Ohio.

Hurley’s story is not unique, but his tale of opioid addiction and ongoing recovery highlights the challenges of the growing crisis in the United States and importance of the American Boy Project to combat it. Three Fall Brawl lacrosse events allow the foundation to raise awareness of the opioid crisis and steps to recovery.

“It’s very important to me,” Hurley said. “A, it’s part of my personal recovery to try to carry the message by sharing my experience, my strength and my hope. The second part of it is being an athlete growing up, there was a stigma around you can’t show any weakness, you can’t show your emotions, and I kind of suppressed that for a long time. And it kind of turned me into a closet drug addict.”

The former player at Delaware and then Colorado Mesa recounts poignantly every harrowing detail of his nearly decade-long battle with opioid addiction, including being in a coma for three days in 2020 after an overdose on fentanyl. It was the second time he overdosed, having also been saved by a roommate and the roommate’s girlfriend before his final semester of college.

“It’s just important for them to know if you do find yourself going down that path, you’re not alone and there’s help,” Hurley said. “And it’s OK to ask. The shame and guilt will eat you alive and keep you from being vulnerable and opening up. I remember I would be fearful.”

When Hurley reached out for help following his 2020 overdose, the American Boy Project aided in his recovery. Hurley’s insurance to cover his stay at a treatment center was up after 14 days, but a scholarship from the American Boy Project allowed him to extend his treatment stay until he was on more solid ground.

“Had it ended at 14 days, I would have had a three-week to a month gap until I was able to get into a sober living,” Hurley said. “So, what would have happened in that time is completely up in the air. It kept me in a safe environment through the 30 days, and then I was able to have an exit plan, a strategy implemented for when I went to a sober house and be surrounded by more sobriety. Without that extra 14 days, I don’t know where I would have been.”


“If anybody asks me to do anything in sobriety where I could help somebody else, I have to say yes.”

— Tom Hurley


The American Boy Fall Brawl helps with fundraising toward the foundation’s scholarships. Participating teams and players also conduct fundraisers themselves and collect sponsorships. The American Boy has named a pair of scholarships for former players from Cabrini and Hudson, Ohio, who have lost their lives to addiction. American Boy has established relationships with treatment facilities to help aid those in recovery. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics estimates the cheapest inpatient treatment center costs $6,000 per month, and they can range up to more than $25,000 per month. Word of mouth and those networks with facilities help American Boy find those that need financial help to reach recovery.

“We’ve gotten great feedback,” American Boy co-founder Larry Megale said. “The people who we provide scholarships for, a lot of the time, they’re overwhelmed that someone would help pay for their room and board while they stay in sober living. We’ve helped athletes, lacrosse players, single moms, all walks of life.”

Hurley is one 40 people who have been aided by scholarships over the last three years from the American Boy Project, which raises a portion of its funds for scholarships through its Fall Brawl events. Last Sunday, Ohio State, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst and Ohio Wesleyan were part of a full day that also included a U13 Sixes tournament and four clinics run by the college teams at the Fall Brawl.

“It went great,” Megale said. “The weather was perfect. There was a great buzz about what we’re about and especially for it being our first time out there. I had my concerns about how we would go over there, but it turned out great.”

The Ohio location — in a state that ranked fourth in opioid deaths in the country in the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics — is new for the American Boy Fall Brawl this year. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Boy Project has grown from the original 2019 Centreville, Va., location to include now Ohio and Ocean City, N.J. Last spring, American Boy Project also sponsored events at Lehigh and at some private North Carolina high schools.

“Next year, we hope to go further south,” Megale said. “We’re spreading out. Ohio, in particular Northeast Ohio, was hit pretty hard with the opioid crisis over the last two years. So, it was definitely good that we were there.”

Centreville will host Richmond, Virginia, Penn State and Lehigh this Sunday along with clinics for youth. Ocean City High will also host youth clinics and Cabrini, Stockton and Elizabethtown on Oct. 22. At each site, the American Boy brings in a speaker like Hurley who can tell their story.

“If anybody asks me to do anything in sobriety where I could help somebody else, I have to say yes,” Hurley said. “I’m forever indebted because of what was done for me. All these people that came in and were able to help me along the way, I owe it to them, and I owe it to the next guy who’s struggling and suffering to say yes and go out of my way to help somebody.”








Often, the Megale family shares its own story. Matthew Megale died at 26 from a heroin overdose after a 10-year battle with substance abuse. He was in and out of treatment before his death.

“We are blown away by the courage of the Megale family to share their son’s story,” UVA coach Lars Tiffany said. “It’d be so much easier to hide and to try to erase what occurred. Instead, to expose what killed their son is truly courageous.”

Megale’s sister, Shea, offered her observations of his struggles in a book that she wrote entitled “American Boy” that ultimately would be used to name the non-profit foundation as well.

“Shea is a force of nature,” Tiffany said. “She wrote a book about her brother. To spend any time with Shea is to be in the presence of someone who will not take no for an answer and will quickly get you to believe that nothing is impossible. Follow her and you will be on the right path.”

The CDC estimated there were more than 107,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021. There were almost 94,000 deaths in 2020. Within those numbers, opioid attributed deaths rose by more than 10,000. Deaths involving synthetic opioids have jumped 80 percent during the past two years.

“We’ve had a lot of players and coaches come up to us afterwards and tell us their personal story of someone they knew in their family or teammate or friend or workmate,” Larry Megale said. “It keeps us going. We know a lot people out there are affected by this, whether directly or whether it’s someone they know from their family or someone they love.”

The Fall Brawl brings the message to a vulnerable population. Overdose death rates were highest among people aged 35-44, but people aged 15-24 had the largest percentage increase in drug overdose death rates between 2019 and 2020. Hurley’s story dissects how quickly things can go badly after an innocent start. He was prescribed painkillers first in high school after an injury and again over and over after multiple injuries in college. When his prescriptions ran out and their effects wore off, he turned to pills and drugs to ease pain and to increase confidence.




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Lars Tiffany and Virginia will play in the next American Boy Fall Brawl this Sunday.


“Everyone is familiar with the story,” Hurley said. “The thing I try to shed light on is, just because we’re lacrosse players, a lot of us may come from privileged upbringings, it doesn’t make you immune. The disease, it doesn’t care what your parents did, or if you went to private school. It’s not based on your ethnicity, your social demographics. It doesn’t matter.”

Hurley repeatedly crossed lines he never thought possible as he ended up in a cycle of failed recoveries. He hid his problems until overdoses brought his issue to the forefront.

“Part of Tom’s message to the teams, and the same when we talk to the teams, is you have to look out for each other,” Megale said. “I tell them, when you cross onto the field, you’re looking out for your teammate, but you need to do that off the field, too, because of all the mental health issues going on these days. We just don’t know, and we have to look out for each other.”

Tiffany uses the Fall Brawl event and the Megales’ story as a reminder to his team of the pitfalls of substance abuse as well as a call to action. He addresses how they can assist in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

“Where it really helps for our men and myself is it reminds us to be empathetic of those who are struggling, those who did make the bad choices initially who are now trying to get away from this addiction who need our help and shouldn’t be ostracized by society because they made bad decisions in the past,” Tiffany said. “To help them moving forward, and it’s OK to ask for help and to reach out. And to be there for those who are struggling instead of vilifying them.”

More information on the American Boy Project is available at americanboy.org. For tickets for Sunday’s Fall Brawl or to donate to the American Boy Project, visit https://www.classy.org/event/american-boy-fall-brawl-virginia-2022/e420175.