Former ZCHS Eagle Joey Tanona: Making a Spectacular Comeback

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Former Eagle Joey Tanona

February/March 2024

This month, we’re delighted to spotlight Zionsville native and ZCHS graduate Joey Tanona (class of 2022) on our cover. He’s gearing up for his debut season as an offensive lineman for the Purdue Boilermakers, making a remarkable return from medical retirement as a former OL for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Discovering the Resilience to Persevere                        

Two years ago, Tanona’s football journey took an unexpected turn when he was involved in a car accident on his way to a morning workout, marking a pivotal moment in his football trajectory.

The incident led to medical retirement from football for both his freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame, putting his promising career on hold. However, before the end of 2023, Tanona announced his decision to reverse this trajectory and reenter the world of college football. The former four-star OL prospect expressed his deep affinity for the game and his determination to pursue his dreams once again after focusing on recovery and regaining his health.

We asked Tanona how his years playing for the ZCHS football program prepared him for life on and off the field. He also reflected on how these skills assisted in his remarkable comeback post-car accident.

“The Zionsville [football program] is the best high school program you could ask for,” Tanona stated. “I love Coach [Scott] Turnquist and all the coaching staff there. They’re the best high school coaches you could ask for and even better men. I loved my time there and playing there. They taught me how to navigate adversity…that was something that was always pounded home, as was, when facing adversity, how are you going to handle it? You can stop and sink, or you can just keep going.”

Former Eagle Joey Tanona

While preparing for his collegiate future, Tanona had his sights on Notre Dame University and knew he wanted to stay in his home state of Indiana.

“Choosing Notre Dame was relatively easy for me,” Tanona shared. “I was raised Catholic and knew I wanted to stay in Indiana. It’s all I’ve ever known, and I love it here. I thought there was no better option at the time.”

Charting a New Course

Arriving at Notre Dame, Tanona envisioned his ideal future, yet life’s unexpected twists intervened, altering the trajectory of not only his athletic pursuits but everything in between. Eventually, through hard work and a high level of tenacity, Tanona recovered physically and mentally and was ready to weigh his options.

“It was a really rough time [after the car accident], and being told you can’t play football anymore, as a football player, is something you never want to hear and genuinely don’t think you’ll ever hear until you hear it,” Tanona said. “It hurt a lot, and I really didn’t know what to do with myself for a long time. But finally, I started to feel like myself again. I started working out again, and I was like, I can do this. It [the accident] was a big setback, but with time and working as hard as I possibly could, I knew I would get back to where I was, and that’s what ultimately led me to Purdue.”

During his recovery and evolution as a student athlete, Tanona emphasized the unwavering backing he’s received from family, friends, and former coaches. This support has been pivotal in propelling Tanona onto his new trajectory.

Former Eagle Joey Tanona

“Nothing changed [in the way of support] from everyone in my immediate family and with my friends…I was still ‘Joey’ to them,” Tanona said. “Nothing changed [in] that aspect, and that really held it together for me. That’s why I am able to be in the position that I’m in. I still talk with my high school coaches, and the support from everyone [in] Zionsville and my family has been great. That support system has been priceless, and it’s invaluable to find those who truly and genuinely care about you…wanting what’s best for you. They’ve all been pulling for me and want me to do what I love to do.”

Tanona continued, “Tough times pass. I was having a really tough time at one point, and the best advice I ever got was from my mom. I asked her, ‘What do you do when things get hard?’ And she said, ‘The only thing you can do…just keep going on.’ This was so profound to me.”

While still on a medical scholarship at Notre Dame, Tanona said he was just a “normal” student for a year and a half. It was during the winter of last year that he decided it was time to move forward and make some solid decisions about his future.

Standing tall at 6’5” and weighing 285 pounds, Tanona is gearing up to join his friend and former ZCHS teammate, Gus Hartwig, as they both take to the field this upcoming season for the Boilermakers.

Former Eagle Joey Tanona

“Around this time last year, I felt like something was missing…a piece of me was missing,” Tanona reflected. “I realized it was my love for football. I just wanted to get back into it, and I was like, okay, I’m going to get back into playing shape and get back to where I was. Whatever happens, happens.”

When asked what factors led him to restart his athletic career at Purdue University and what his immediate academic and athletic goals are, Tanona replied, “First is the obvious—the opportunity to play with Gus [Hartwig] again. You can’t really beat that. And Purdue was a place during my recruitment in high school that I liked as well, so it was a pretty easy choice.”

Tanona added, “I’m a film major, and I’ve always been a big movie guy. That’s what I studied while at Notre Dame, and loved it, so I’m going to continue doing it. As of right now, my goal is to recapture my love for the game again and do what I love. As a team, we are lifting, training and conditioning in the mornings and taking it day by day, building upon each day.”