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Max Borghi of Pomona wins 2017 Gold Helmet Award

When Max Borghi hobbled on in crutches to The Denver Post building for his photo shoot for last year’s All-Colorado team, the Pomona tailback looked the part of a player who just had major knee surgery.

The few weeks of immobility since the Panthers’ star tore his ACL and MCL in the state quarterfinals had taken some muscle off his frame, and as he hobbled around the studio for his portrait, a big question hung in the air: Would Borghi be able to be Borghi again, the back with breakaway speed and gifted field vision not seen in the state’s prep ranks since Christian McCaffrey?

It’d be a question that Massimiliano Christopher Borghi, the 2017 Gold Helmet winner, would come to answer with a resounding yes during a senior season in which he racked up 2,101 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns while leading the Panthers to their first Class 5A state championship.

“My comeback was all in the mindset,” Borghi said. “I knew I wasn’t going to let the injury stop me, and that if I worked hard, took my physical therapy seriously and took my training seriously, I could come back the same me. And I did.”

The senior went off for 164 yards rushing in his 2017 debut against Fountain-Fort Carson, Pomona’s second game of the season, and followed that up with a five-touchdown performance the next week against Ralston Valley.

But the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Borghi — who with a 4.35 40-yard dash and 335-pound max bench press is described as “a genetic freak” by Dr. David Schneider — was just getting his comeback started en route to becoming Pomona’s first Gold Helmet winner.

“Watching him live (against Ralston Valley), I knew he wasn’t there yet — he was only nine months from surgery at that point,” said Schneider, who oversaw the tailback’s operation and rehabilitation. “Usually every game, I’d say, ‘Max, my eyes tell me you’re 80 percent there, or you’re 85 percent there.’ In the semifinals he was 95 percent. And in the state championship — when he trucked (an Eaglecrest player) at the goal line — I knew he was 100 percent.”

And, as Borghi’s explosiveness skyrocketed, so too did his recruiting profile. Originally pledging to Colorado before flipping to Washington State in late June, Borghi’s play down the stretch this fall has now drawn interest from Stanford, who had its running backs coach on the sideline at Sports Authority Field for the state title game.

The Cardinal’s late push for Colorado’s top prep tailback — as well as still-strong interest from North Carolina and California — should make for an interesting Dec. 20 early signing deadline for Borghi, who currently remains verbally committed to the Cougars and is hungry to prove himself at the next level.

“I’m going to go into college and be a no-name, and that’s what I’m most excited for,” Borghi said. “Here in Colorado I’ve made a name for myself, but when I go out of state, no one knows who I am. I have to establish myself again.”

Regardless of where he plays in college, Pomona coach Jay Madden believes Borghi’s ceiling is as high as it was for McCaffrey, the 2013 Gold Helmet winner who went on to be a Heisman finalist — at Stanford, no less — and now plays for the Carolina Panthers.

“The last half of this year, he started to show the skills he has to be an unbelievable Division I running back — that’s power and the ability to get the tough yards,” Pomona coach Jay Madden said. “We all know he can make the big play, but he’s shown how he can be consistent and make those four, five yard runs you have to have to keep drives alive.”

Borghi has also risen to the task in the classroom, where the senior boasts a 3.86 GPA and earned a 29 on the ACT — that in addition to various community service work such as volunteering in soup kitchens and at retirement homes.

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