A highly recruited player who spurned Utah and Boise State for Oregon, Costa epitomized a team leader: admired for his achievements, an inspiration for his hard work, embraced by a community he helped cultivate.Read the rest
Five years later, with the Ducks football team riding into the BCS Championship game against Auburn on Jan.10, Costa has become a tragic figure. Not one, not two, but three knee injuries have conspired to nearly erase his college career -- one striking just a month ago, with Oregon heading for its first 12-0 season.
But something remarkable happened as Costa absorbed blow after blow. He kept attending practices and meetings. He lifted and rehabbed. He mentored younger teammates.
As Costa endured one of the most star-crossed careers in program history, others admired his achievement, found inspiration in his hard work and embraced his community spirit. The ripples of his courage are still spreading.
And before the Ducks' Nov. 26 game against Arizona, as Oregon prepared to honor its senior players, Costa stood with crutches next to his parents in the tunnel of Autzen Stadium.
Costa's name was announced and the three strode into a crush of cheers and hugs from coach Chip Kelly and Gary Campbell, the assistant who recruited Costa. Former Oregon star Joey Harrington, tears in his eyes, embraced Costa as fans roared. Shawn was awestruck by the joyous noise for the onetime high school star who had started one college game.
"I knew that they loved him and that they supported him, but I had no idea to that extent," she said. "It was beautiful."
Costa's story is not a tragedy after all. It is a triumph. His goal was to contribute to the football program and help the team win, and he has. He has come to see overcoming misfortune as his fate, something not measurable on a stat sheet but just as meaningful and enduring.
"Just the other day, I was walking to Albertson's and wasn't even in the door yet when this woman pulls up in her car and says, 'Hey, you're Nate,'" Costa recalled. "I was like, 'Yeah.' And she told me about how I'm such an inspiration to her son, Thank you for being such a good role model.
"And that's the stuff that... all this stuff that I went through, all the injuries, every weight that I've lifted, every lap that I've run, it's all worth it."