Two days after his incredible return to football, Boston College receiver Bobby Swigert still had texts and well-wishes to return.
In true Swigert fashion, he insisted on replying to everybody. Swigert understands he could not have made it all the way back to football after 11 knee surgeries, two years away, tedious rehab and dark moments without all those who supported him, encouraged him and told him never give up.
Swigert is the poster child for overcoming the odds. Nobody deserved what happened Saturday more than he did.
“It felt awesome to be back on the field,” Swigert said in a recent phone interview. “You try and stay as interconnected as you can with the team but it’s not the same if you’re not in the huddle and you’re not going thru everything with your teammates. It’s really nice to be in that and have a voice. Going through everything with my teammates, it’s everything I love about football.
For those unfamiliar with his story, let’s set the scene: Swigert severely injured his knee against Notre Dame in November 2012. The resulting surgery unleashed a series of staph infections, requiring additional operations and intense rehab. He dropped nearly 50 pounds and had bone in his knee removed to eliminate the staph once and for all.
In between, Boston College hired Steve Addazio, who never hesitated to keep Swigert on scholarship. The goal all along was to return. When Swigert was cleared for practice this past spring, it was a major milestone.
When he participated in fall practice, he felt his day would finally come. When Saturday rolled around, Swigert knew he would play for the first time in nearly three years.
“It was definitely different to get that mind-set back when you’re about to play a major college football game, to be completely focused and have my mind in the right situation to where I’m ready to compete at a high level and control all the emotions I’m feeling,” Swigert said.
He did that from the start, hauling in a reception in the first quarter for 5 yards. Deep breaths. In the second quarter, BC drove down to the Maine 11 with time winding down. Swigert lined up and ran a roll out. He rarely gets the ball out of this formation, but Darius Wade went through his progressions and went right to him, putting the ball where only Swigert could catch it for the touchdown.
“It was low and I got under it and it felt amazing,” Swigert said.
Teammates swarmed to him. The entire sideline ran onto the field to congratulate him. It was then that Swigert realized he had to line up and hold for the extra point.
“That was definitely the hardest hold I’ve ever had to make,” Swigert said with a chuckle. “I had to lock in for 20 seconds there before I could let loose on the sideline.”
Swigert ended up with two receptions for 16 yards and a score. Addazio and the trainers remain vigilant about how much Swigert does, proceeding cautiously because of everything his knee has endured. In all, Swigert estimates he was in for 15 or 16 plays.
One would have been enough.
“It was an incredible week from the point where we draw game captains. We draw the names out of a box and I got picked for this week and everything’s gone perfectly,” Swigert said. “I make my first catch, I feel pretty good on the field, and the very next catch in a crucial time in the game, Darius finds me in the end zone and just pure joy after I caught it. It was everything that I dreamed of.”
Among the many texts he had on his phone was one from former Eagles great Luke Kuechly.
“He just said congrats,” Swigert said. “He’s always keeping tabs on the game. He’s loyal to the program and a great alum. It was awesome to have a text from him.”
Swigert says his knee feels great, better than even he expected. Now, he just wants to build on the baby steps he took last Saturday and enjoy each practice and each game until his senior season comes to an end. He is on bonus time, after all.