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It’s always less about the injury and more about the head game.
Bobby Swigert injured his knee in Boston College’s last scrimmage. The finish line was right in front of him. It was the last full-contact practice of preseason. The season opener was a week away. And then a freak play — a defender crashed into his knee while Swigert was holding a block — meant that he’d miss that game and then some.
“It’s really frustrating to make it that far through camp and then go down like that,” said the junior wide receiver. “I tried to keep my head up. It was really frustrating. It was really hard on me.”
He tried not to check out, even though he and the rest of the team knew it would be at least a month before he returned.
He tried to be a vocal leader in practice, talking up the younger receivers. But he felt a detachment as much as the Eagles felt the void of not having the player that led them in receiving yards the past two seasons.
“It was kind of hard,” Swigert said. “When you’re hurt for that long, you don’t feel like you’re part of the core group anymore.”
He tested his limits, trying to find ways to keep himself engaged. Eventually, he ended up taking his playbook and drawing out the plays over and over.
“I would just keep writing them and writing them,” he said, “so I would know what everybody does on every single play.”
After sitting out the Eagles’ first three games, Swigert returned to practice last week, and BC is hopeful for his return Saturday against Clemson.
The Eagles have attacked teams through the air in a way they haven’t since Matt Ryan was under center. Quarterback Chase Rettig leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 317 passing yards per game. Junior wideout Alex Amidon has been the biggest beneficiary, catching 8.3 passes per game for a conference-leading 122 yards per game.
Swigert, who was expected to be Rettig’s primary target, has had to watch and wait.
“I’ve just been really antsy to get back on the field,” Swigert said. “We haven’t really thrown the ball this well since I’ve been here, and it’s been frustrating the past two years getting the ball downfield.
“We’ve had a lot of big plays this year. We’re just a lot different.”
Rettig has made use of every possible weapon, from his three young receivers — Amidon, Johnathan Coleman, and Spiffy Evans — to running back Tahj Kimble to the unlikeliest target, fullback Jake Sinkovec. But the chemistry he has with Swigert is undeniable.
“I missed him,” said Rettig. “We’re looking forward to having him back. It feels like we just picked right up where we left off. He’s one of those veteran guys who already understands everything.
“He looks pretty good so far, and we’re just trying to help him out as much as possible and I’m sure he’ll help us out a lot.”
In Swigert’s absence, Amidon has emerged not only as a more-than-adequate alternative but a Biletnikoff Award watch list candidate, which hasn’t surprised Swigert at all.
“Alex is obviously having an amazing year,” Swigert said. “He’s really breaking out this year. He’s always been a really hard worker. He never stops working. He deserves everything that he gets right now.
“It’s been awesome for him to be a consistent receiver for us. I think Chase needs that. The confidence he has with Amidon is really high right now. I think when I get back, I can add a little bit to that.”
For coach Frank Spaziani, the more threats the better.
“More talent is always a good problem,” Spaziani said. “Bobby’s a good football player and he’s experienced and he brings a lot of things besides his physical skill to us. His leadership and his maturity out there. We’re happy to have him practicing at least.”
Clemson was easily the most fitting opponent for Swigert’s return. A year ago, he had his coming-out party against the Tigers, catching seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.
“He killed Clemson,” said captain and left tackle Emmett Cleary. “They couldn’t cover him.
“Clemson, they have confidence that their guys can go one-on-one and then they just stack the box, and if single guys can’t hold up in coverage, then we’re going to have big plays, which you saw last year with Bob.”
There will be rust. Swigert will also have to adjust to playing more on the outside instead of in the slot, where he has done most of his damage.
But he has gotten back to cutting hard on his knee without feeling any problems.
Physically, he said, he’s fine.
“Mentally,” he said, “getting over that hump is a big part of it.”
. . .
Clemson will be without its top receiver, sophomore Sammy Watkins. The 2011 first-team All-American has an abdominal virus and will not travel with the team.
Watkins was suspended for the Tigers’ first two games following an offseason drug arrest.
In two games he has just 10 catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns, though he does have a scoring run.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.