Sports, Fall, Football

Christian Mahogany Doesn’t Let Injury, Uncertainty, or Loss Hold Him Back

Growing up, there weren’t many days that Christian Mahogany didn’t see his mother go into work. There actually might have been none, according to Francine Cerniglia.

“I don’t think I’ve missed a day in 10 years,” Cerniglia, Mahogany’s mother, said.

Cerniglia, the owner and manager of Torpedo Base USA, a family-owned restaurant in Paterson, N.J., only took one day off the entire week that Mahogany was born. It was to go to the hospital to deliver him. 

“[The restaurant] was family owned, so you had to do what you had to do,” Francine said. “You had to pull your weight kind of, you know, everybody in our family kind of worked it.”

Six weeks after having Mahogany, Francine went right back to her everyday grind. She hasn’t missed a beat ever since. 

“I’m more my dad [than Mahogany], the very hardcore,” Francine said. “I’m more rigid. Like this is it, that’s it. I don’t change.” 

While Mahogany was around his mother often during his childhood, watching her work—he’d go to the restaurant to sell merchandise and hand out sodas during his adolescence, she said—Cerniglia sees more of her mother in him than she sees herself. 

Barbara Cerniglia, Mahogany’s grandmother, who died from cancer in 2021, did not have the narrow-tunnel working drive that her husband did and her daughter inherited, according to Francine. She did, however, have a kind-hearted nature and was attentive, just like Mahogany is, Francine said. 

Mahogany said he still keeps recordings of Barbara’s voice on his phone. Simple happy birthday messages and “I love you’s” from Barbara are kept in Mahogany’s voicemails.  

“He’s got the very caring nature of my mother, the very nurturing, caring side,” Francine said. “My mother, we used to call her Switzerland—she’s very neutral. So to get a rise out of my mom, you really had to do something.” 

Ironically, Barbara never wanted Mahogany to play football because Mahogany was always set to play on the offensive line due to his size, according to Francine. Barbara struggled with the idea that Mahogany would never be the one who was being protected but rather, would be the one doing the protecting. 

“She just thought it was hard, rugged, and knew he wasn’t going to be the pretty boy,” Francine said of her mother’s qualms about Mahogany’s decision to start playing. “The quarterback, he gets protected. Not Christian. He has always done the groundwork. I guess we’re similar in that way.”

After tearing his ACL before the beginning of the 2022 season during a home workout, Mahogany’s dreams of becoming the top offensive lineman in college football—against Barbara’s will or not—were put on hold. 

“That’s always been my goal in college,” Mahogany said.

But over a year after the injury occurred, he is back on track. In fact, he’s even better than before.

Prior to Boston College football’s matchup against Virginia Tech two weeks ago, Mahogany hadn’t allowed a single sack or quarterback hit in 301 pass block snaps. He has earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors twice this season, and he has been selected to the Outland Trophy Watch List, awarded to college football’s best interior lineman on offense or defense. Mahogany is also on pace to win Comeback Player of the Year, which recognizes college football student-athletes from all divisions of college football.

In order to remind himself of his goals, Mahogany hung them up on his walls like typical college students do with flags or jerseys when he first arrived in Chestnut Hill, according to Francine. His walls at home are decorated with goals on little whiteboards, Francine said. She has pictures of them on her phone. 

“He wants to be No. 1 in the country,” Francine said. “I don’t know if he shows his goals. … Some of them he’s gotten, but he hasn’t achieved that extra-extra success that he wants. The one where there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind, they see him on the field, they see him in the locker room, that he didn’t deserve it, he didn’t earn it, he didn’t anything. He wants no doubt from anyone.”

M

ahogany’s talents were largely uncharted by top-tier programs late in his high school football career—the only SEC offer Mahogany received was from Vanderbilt. 

Out of high school, Mahogany was just a three-star prospect with an overall rating of 82, according to 247Sports. Mahogany attended Paramus Catholic in Paramus, N.J., and ranked as the No. 39 overall prospect in the state and the No. 104 offensive guard in the country.

Schools like Rutgers, Virginia, Syracuse, Kent State, UMass, and Rhode Island, among others, expressed interest in Mahogany with offers. Ultimately, though, he landed on BC, just four days after officially visiting the school on Jan. 18, 2019.

But Mahogany still had doubts after he committed. So BC’s coaching staff made the 225-mile trip to Patterson to secure his commitment. 

“They literally drove all night and made Christian get out of the bed, and we went to the diner to kind of like pump him up to say, ‘what’s going on?’” Francine said of BC’s coaches. “The next day was kinda the same. He was still hesitant. I said, ‘you know what, you made your decision, you have to stick with it.’”

Francine said Mahogany’s doubts were more about himself than the program. 

“I probably will never know, they probably will never know,” Francine said of why Mahogany had cold feet. “But all those guys got in a car for three or four hours to get to our town and say, ‘Hey, we’re dependent on you.’ That definitely stuck with him.”

A similar incident occurred just after Mahogany’s freshman year because he didn’t get much playing time, according to Mahogany. He also said he wasn’t thrilled that BC was moving in a different direction with its head coach, firing Steve Addazio in 2019 to replace him with Jeff Hafley

“I know it’s public knowledge, but when he got here, I didn’t wanna go under a new head coach,” Mahogany said. “I was thinking about leaving after my freshman year. And then he called me, he called my mom. He was at Ohio State preparing for a big game. That made me really understand that he cared about me even without meeting yet.”

While Mahogany had early doubts about his fit on the Heights, he made it very clear where he stood prior to the 2023 season after missing a full year due to his injury.

Similar to former BC wide receiver Zay Flowers, Mahogany said he was offered significant name, image, and likeness deals to leave BC and join an elite college football program. But Mahogany said he wasn’t going to let another program use him as a “rental,” and he remained committed to the program that drove hundreds of miles on a whim to show their commitment to him.

“I just really didn’t want to leave a place that believed in me since then,” Mahogany said. “And like I’ve said, it’s kind of special. I’m not going to be a rental for a year. I just wanted to stay where I was cared about, where I was cared for, that’ll vouch for me no matter what. I couldn’t get that option anywhere else.”

When Mahogany’s ACL popped, he said he immediately blacked out. 

“I was on the ground, like holding my leg,” Mahogany said. “Everyone who was there, my trainer, was like it didn’t look bad. So they didn’t know yet the severity of it. I was just doing single leg hops.”

Francine said she didn’t find out about the injury until Mahogany’s friends called her from the car on the way to the hospital. 

“They were trying to pick him up, he’s 315 [lbs], and they’re trying to get him into the backseat of the car,” Francine said. 

After pulling some strings, Hafley booked an appointment for Mahogany with Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon for the New York Giants, to repair the torn ligament. Before talking about the operation, though, Rodeo couldn’t believe the size of Mahogany’s knees, according to Francine.

“He was amazed with my son’s knee size,” Francine said. “You know, he does giants, NFL players, he said ‘your son has one hell of a knee.’ I think it was like 25 across or whatever he was saying. Elephant knees.”

Mahogany said he couldn’t dwell for too long after the operation happened. Through rehab, he tried to go back to work in an efficient manner, but various mental battles challenged him. 

“I just had to go right to work and see how much I could do in a certain period of time,” Mahogany said. “It was tough, but I just had to just go right through it.”

The first two weeks after the operation consisted of icing, relaxing, and playing video games, according to Mahogany. But when he thought of the bigger picture—especially about BC’s upcoming 2022 campaign—he said it was painful. And not from a physical standpoint.

“It was tough because we had a lot of expectations,” Mahogany said. “Coming into that year, we had Phil [Jurkovec], we had Zay [Flowers], myself. At that time, we were trying to win a lot of games with the guys that we had in the last couple of years. And then I just got hurt.” 

Francine said Mahogany needed cheering up some days. But she gives her son credit for the lessons he took away from the injury and for taking time off from football in general.

“I’m not gonna lie, he was crying some days,” Francine said. “He took it hard. But I think he learned that he was stronger than he gave himself credit for, overcoming an injury. I still don’t think he sees it, even though he did step up and help the coaches, you know, keeping the boys in line, keeping them accountable for their practices, the weight room and things like that.”

B

C offensive line coach Matt Applebaum attested to the presence that Mahogany brings to the O-line room everyday and said he sets the tone for the entire team. 

Despite not playing a single snap in 2022, Mahogany was voted by the players as a team captain for the 2023 season. 

“He’s not necessarily a guy who’s giving a bunch of rah rah speeches, although he’s more than capable of standing up in front of the room,” Applebaum said. “I just think he’s one that leads through action and really leads through his play. I think he has a really definitive style in his play, and he’s very physical and violent in his play.”

While Applebaum never went through an injury like Mahogany did—Applebaum played college football at UConn where he was a starter for two years—a big part of how he helped Mahogany during his comeback was by making him feel included, he said. 

“As much as you try to keep them involved and included, they naturally feel distant,” Applebaum said of coaching players with injuries. “Football is so intense, and you’re in the trenches with your guys. Even when you’re in that mode you don’t truly even acknowledge it. Then all of a sudden, it gets taken away from you.”

Applebaum said he told Mahogany that light was at the end of the tunnel and that he would have to fight through some dark days. 

Now, Mahogany and the rest of the O-line, under Applebaum, are at the helm of a rushing attack that ranks atop the ACC and in the top 20 in the nation.


“I don’t really know what people expected, coming off being last in the nation in rushing,” Mahogany said. “But I know what we expected.”

W

hen Francine thinks about her favorite things from Mahogany’s BC career so far, she said she thinks about the camaraderie that the offensive line established back in 2021. 

That group, which consisted of Mahogany, first-round draft pick Zion Johnson, and a plethora of professional talent in Tyler Vrabel, Alec Lindstrom, and Ben Petrula, went to church together, ate meals together, and did practically everything else in a pack, according to Francine. 

Francine said things have changed now in that respect, and the word brotherhood doesn’t apply to her view of the team in the same way that it used to.

But Mahogany is in a different position now, according to both Francine and Applebaum. He is called upon for guidance, leadership, and to set examples for the rest of the team. He is no longer the young one in the unit. 

“They respect him, they look up to him, and he’s their role model now,” Francine said. “He’s the big man on campus. He may not see it because he’s very humble, but he does get that cockiness that he needs.”

Mahogany described BC’s 2023 offensive line as a well-oiled machine.

“I think we all understand what’s going on and we all want it,” Mahogany said. “We’ve been playing together as a unit.”

During BC’s five-game win streak from Week Five to Week 10, the Eagles manufactured 1,263 rushing yards as a team, including 12 rushing touchdowns.

Mahogany said much of that success has come with the relationship building between the O-line and BC quarterback Thomas Castellanos, who transferred from Central Florida during the offseason prior to 2023. Mahogany sees a unique trust forming between him and the signal caller, both on the field and off it.

“He was a kid who didn’t have a lot of playing time obviously,” Mahogany said. “And then he came in and started making plays right away. That’s definitely something that has helped us—with his legs, and with his arm. It’s definitely something that adds a different dynamic.”

If there’s pressure on the quarterback, Mahogany said he sees it as a reflection on himself.

“We have to make checks in that case,” Mahogany said. “I have to make sure I protect him.”

While Barbara may have had a negative opinion of Mahogany’s willingness to be a protector, according to Mahogany and Francine, she probably would have appreciated the dynamic between Mahogany and Castellanos as well. Francine surely does. 

“Castellanos is like the rocket,” Francine said. “Yeah, he’s shooting and all the boys are following him. Christian is the bomb. My son is the cannonball and he’s just waiting for whatever you need on every play. And when that cannonball drops, everybody goes.”

November 19, 2023