Mac Nugent was excited for the 2017 Bureau Valley football season. He had met with new Storm head coach Joe Schmitt and was going to be in the mix for a varsity position.
Then in the first 10 minutes of the Storm’s summer basketball camp, Nugent went in for a layup and came down wrong on his right ankle. All those big plans for basketball and football went down with it.
“I just heard a crack sound, and from right then, I knew it was messed up,” Nugent said.
Messed up so much that he tore all the cartilage in his right ankle and chipped a bone. Microfracture surgery was required to repair the damage.
“So basically what they drilled a hole through the bone to make it bleed. Fiber cartilage would replace the actual cartilage,” he said.
“I honestly didn’t think it was that serious until my dad told me.”
“He had to sit out the football and basketball seasons his sophomore year, and doctors gave him grim outlook on his return,” his dad, Jim, the BV varsity girls basketball coach, said.
Nugent not only made it back to the football field this year, he did so in a big, big way.
He scored all four touchdowns in the Storm’s 28-16 opening night win over Erie-Prophetstown last week, three by rush and one on a kickoff return. Oh, by the way, he also picked off two passes.
He told me after the game he just went out there and had fun with his teammates and “It felt amazing to finally get back out there on the field after being out this past year.”
As high as he was following that game, the memory of some very hard game nights just a year ago remain close.
He remembers being on the sidelines on his crutches, “telling myself I can’t wait till next year, and I can’t wait to finally play and play the game I love.”
He’s man enough to admit it hurt so much emotionally, he cried every Friday night when he got home.
“I would go home and there would be nights I’d have to go into my parents’ room and talk to them just so I felt I little bit better about myself a little bit,” he said.
“I’d be crying for sure, and my dad would give me a hug, and tell me I will be back, and there wasn’t much I could do right now.”
He had doubts there was anything he could do even later knowing the seriousness of similar injuries to some professional athletes, like Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, who had the same microfracture surgery and struggled to return to form.
“A lot of NBA guys had it, and they didn’t come back from it. There was times, I didn’t know if I was going to come back from it,” he said.
Nugent was unable to play basketball his sophomore year, but he made it back to the track — kind of. He said he just couldn’t run like he used to and was ready to give it up.
“It was really hard on me. I was about to quit,” he said. “I had to talk to my coach, and say, ‘Hey, I can’t do the running. I’ve got to do something else. So he let me do high jump. I went to state in high jump, and that was always my event. I was happy I could do that.”
Gradually, Nugent began to get his wheels beneath him and had his “ah-hah” moment when coach Dan DeVenney put him in some relays.
“I ran the 4x100 and the second fastest time my first time running all year,” he said. “That’s when I thought to myself, ‘Hey, maybe my speed is still there. Maybe I will be able to come back.’”
Through his adversity, Nugent said he learned some life lessons, to keep working hard and the realization and that there’s life beyond sports.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned, keep your head up, work hard no matter what you do. I don’t think I would be where I am if I didn’t start lifting hard and really working hard at whatever and going 100 percent,” he said.
“It also taught me there’s lot more things in life than sports. As bad as it is, I’m thankful for it, because it really changed me as a person overall.”
Did you know?: Mac Nugent’s first name is Jim, but he goes by Mac, which is short for his middle name, McGwire, as in former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. I knew I really liked that kid.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.