On Nov. 11, 2012, Bobby Swigert’s career appeared over.
The junior wide receiver tore every tendon and ligament in his right knee, save for his PCL, during a standard short route in Boston College’s game against Notre Dame. Over the course of the next 24 months, Swigert endured 11 knee surgeries, missed two full seasons, and the eternal torture of waiting to get back on the field.
Everyone thought that Swigert should hang up his cleats. Give up the dream, the recovery time wouldn’t be worth it. The only person who never got the message was the man himself.
Swigert spent every second of his time off working for this day, when he would finally get to run out of the tunnel onto the Alumni Stadium turf and prove to his doubters that football was still in his future. And when he caught a quick pass on a five-yard stick route, his first since the injury, Swigert admits that it snapped him back into game time.
“I really did look around and take everything in,” Swigert said. “Because when you’re away from the game, you truly miss it.”
Even he couldn’t have fantasized about what happened next.
Swigert’s Eagles (1-0) drove deep into the end zone of the University of Maine (0-1) on the fourth drive of their season opener. Their first four drives ended pitifully—and that’s putting it lightly. A three-and-out, a stalled drive at the three that resulted in a field goal, and a missed field goal that renewed waves of panic throughout the bleachers in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The offense, now led by sophomore quarterback Darius Wade and an offensive line returning only one player with starting experience—right guard Harris Williams, who blocked for Andre Williams in 2013 but missed the entirety of 2014 with a right ankle injury—looked ill-prepared to handle a swarming Black Bears’ defense. Though only an FCS opponent, Maine’s defensive unit mobbed the Eagles’ backfield, putting nine or 10 men in the box and sending heavy rushes.
Wade brought BC within striking distance of the end zone again as the first half wound down, thanks to two shovel passes to running back Jonathan Hilliman, doubling his 2014 reception total. With 31 seconds left, head coach Steve Addazio called a timeout, leaving his offensive coordinator Todd Fitch to draw up a pass play—which would have been an unimaginable thought only one season ago when Tyler Murphy quarterbacked the Eagles.
Maine sent a rush again, forcing Wade off to the left. His running back, Tyler Rouse, who filled in well for number two back Myles Willis (mono) by notching 84 yards on only eight carries and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, threw Wade a key block that allowed him to run to the edge. The young quarterback, playing his first game as the Eagles’ starter, read the man coverage and saw a receiver break away from the defenders with a sharp cut to the left back post. Running out of options, Wade rifled a low pass off his back foot into the end zone.
Only then did he see that it was the veteran Swigert laying out for the ball and making the catch.
At that point, the party began.
Swigert immediately rose to his feet, screaming and throwing a punch in celebration. His teammates shortly followed. Thadd Smith, the young wideout, jumped right up to him and pushed his chest. Rouse ran over, yelling “Yeah let’s go!” He couldn’t wait to celebrate with a friend who he has watched grind and struggle for so many years. Soon enough, the whole sideline was out to at least the numbers, cheering for their inspiration.
“They were even more excited than I was,” Swigert said following the game, clearly still welled up with the emotion of returning to the battlefield.
Immediately, Swigert ran over to the sidelines as well to celebrate with his buddy, Mehdi Abdesmad, who also returned to game action following his second season-ending knee surgery in as many years. Abdesmad had 1.5 sacks, anchoring a devastatingly good BC defensive line that held the Black Bears to a mere 91 yards of total offense, with only seven yards on the ground.
Not all was good in this 24-3 Eagles’ victory, of course. Addazio described the offense as “herky-jerky” with electric plays “sprinkled through some garbage-y stuff.” The Eagles were more balanced with Wade as a passing threat, but looked sluggish in the first half. The new offensive line will have some work to do, especially if it wants to return to the power-run scheme Addazio perfected last year for Hilliman. In a way, the play calling still doesn’t seem to perfectly fit the arm of Wade, as the BC quarterback had few plays particularly designed for a pass from the pocket.
But that’s what these FCS games are for—a trial run for an evolving offense that lacks an identity—before the bigger competition that looms two weeks from now: defending ACC champion Florida State. And you better believe these guys are ready for it, especially their two senior captains—Swigert and Abdesmad.
When asked about how long it took to get mentally and physically ready for this first game back from injury, Abdesmad laughed and spoke for both him and Swigert.
“I just needed one snap,” he said.
Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor