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BC's Bobby Swigert poised for remarkable comeback

3/12/2015

He made cuts so many times in his life, there was no actual thinking involved. Catch the ball, make a cut, head downfield.

So here came another routine catch, this one against rival Notre Dame. Boston College receiver Bobby Swigert went to make a routine cut. His right knee buckled. The defender barely touched him. Swigert dropped to the field. Now, he started thinking. Too much thinking.

He knew he was hurt badly.

His knee swelled immediately. His entire leg started turning black and blue. “It felt,” he says, “like my knee was hanging there by the skin.”

Swigert soon learned he had shredded just about everything inside his knee: ACL, MCL, LCL, patella tendon and both menisci torn. Only the PCL was left intact.

Surgery loomed in the aftermath, then he would rehab and get back out there. He remained confident in that. What he felt less certain about was how this had happened, on a play he had made thousands of times.

The next morning, Swigert thought he should watch the tape. “It’s like you’re driving by a wreck on the side of the road. I had to see it,” he said. “I watched it in a room alone. It was absolutely disgusting. I was traumatized.”

That was Nov. 11, 2012.

Swigert has not played in a game since.

He dreams about football, though. Catching a touchdown pass in Death Valley. He had that one recently. Boston College travels to play Clemson on Oct. 17.

It could happen.

Swigert returned to full practice a few weeks ago -- his first in over two years. That is a major victory, considering what unfolded after he got hurt.

An already significant knee injury turned nearly catastrophic when doctors could not get a handle on a persistent staph infection that formed after his first surgery to repair the patella, MCL and LCL. Swigert was placed in a cast that went from his toes up to his hip, confined to a wheelchair.

Something inside the cast started to itch. He told his doctors. Initially, they thought the staph infection was contained to his tissues. They went in for more surgery. The staph infection returned. More surgery.

In between all this, Boston College made a coaching change. Steve Addazio came in with a new staff. Swigert got nervous that Addazio would cast him aside, to make room for players who could actually contribute.

Addazio never considered it, thanks in part to assistant Ryan Day, who helped recruit Swigert to BC during a previous stint. Shortly after Addazio was hired, he visited Swigert in the hospital. That gesture meant so much to Swigert’s grandmother, she wrote a letter to Addazio and the school expressing her gratitude.

“He barely knew Bobby, but he was there for him,” said Kerry Swigert, Bobby’s mom. “He told Bobby that he had had staph in his knee. He said, ‘I’ve been through this, you’ll get through this.’ We really respect Coach Addazio. He said, ‘You’re one of my kids.’ It’s always been like that with him.”

Once doctors felt the infection had cleared, they went in to repair his ACL. It was now summer 2013. After so many setbacks, Swigert felt good. This would be the last step.

He underwent surgery No. 7.

The staph infection returned.

“That was devastating,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, we’re going to operate on you tomorrow. You’re going to be in the hospital for two weeks. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh is this ever going to end? What do I have to do to fight this off?’”

Doctors had no answers. They told him they had never seen a case like his before, little consolation to a football player desperate to get back on the field. Ultimately, they discovered the infection had been eating away his bone, and had to chip some away.

Twice during the entire ordeal, he needed a peripherally inserted central catheter in his arm to pump antibiotics around the clock. The smallest tasks -- going to class, showering, getting comfortable for bed -- became monumental efforts.

Four more operations followed the ACL repair, bringing the grand total to 11.

Yet never once, between the injury, the staph infections, the wheelchair, the crutches, the operations, the constant stream of antibiotics that dropped his weight from 200 pounds to 158, never once did he think about quitting.

He refused to let any of that be the end of him.

“The biggest thing is that football gives me a feeling that nothing else really does,” Swigert said. “It’s a thrill type thing when you’re on the field and when you score a touchdown in front of screaming fans. It’s something I’ve been striving to get back.”

Though Swigert has not been in any games, he has been an integral part of the team over the last two seasons. Swigert attended practices, team meetings and every single game -- home and away. He proved extremely helpful to receivers coach Todd Fitch in 2014, mentoring a rather young group of players.

“If there’s one person everybody in this building’s rooting for, it’s Bobby because everybody understands what he’s gone through,” said Fitch, recently promoted to offensive coordinator. “Hopefully, he continues to grow and rehab and we can see him on the field in the fall. That would be a fantastic story. One of the best I’ve ever been around.”

Swigert wears a brace on his knee at practice. He already has arthritis. His knee cracks all the time. Everything feels different. The first time he went to make a cut, he got nervous and did not give it his best effort. But every day brings a little more comfort.

"It's like he literally has to learn how to cut and balance," Addazio said. "Every day it's a new day on his knee. Because it was so inactive so long, it takes a while. Every structure has to groove itself back in. ... It's a process and hopefully we'll have him on the field for the first game next year."

Coaches are being cautious with what he can do, and will not truly know until late August what role he will have on the team. Right now, all that matters is practice. He missed sweating alongside his teammates. He is fulfilled, but more is yet to come.

Swigert went home to Ohio recently for spring break. Kerry turned to him and said, as only a mother could, “You can brag if you want.”

He is waiting on that.