By Will Vandervort
Sometimes life is not fair, especially in the game of football.
Nearly six weeks after stepping up and filling in as a substitute tight end in third-ranked Clemson’s win over Georgia, Patrick DeStefano’s football career is over. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced the news about his offensive lineman following Wednesday’s practice.
“Patrick loves football,” Swinney said. “We don’t have anyone else on this team that is more committed to being a great football player and more committed than doing it our way than Stef.
“It is just a shame to lose a guy like that. He was on his way to being a great player. I really felt like he had a chance to be a very special player for us. It is kind of like when we lost J.K. Jay a few years ago, it’s a shame, but as we all know that is part of the game.”
Trainers and doctors held the redshirt freshman out of the last three of ball games for what they thought was a neck injury. And though his neck checked out okay, further testing last Friday—following DeStefano’s complaints that he was still having pains in his shoulders that were similar to stingers—reveled he had sever nerve damage.
“The test did not come back good,” Swinney said. “It was basically a decision he made along with his family, and the doctor’s opinion for him, that he not play football anymore.”
Before his injury, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete was becoming the kind of player the Tigers, who will host Boston College in Death Valley this Saturday, were starting to count on. He played 13 snaps in Clemson’s win over Georgia to open the season and they were big snaps.
With tight ends Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett out with knee injuries, DeStefano moved over from the offensive line where he led the way for both of quarterback Tajh Boyd’s rushing touchdowns.
The next week against South Carolina State, he moved back to the offensive line where he recorded 58 snaps in Clemson’s second win of the season. As it turned out, that was the last game he ever played in.
“He is handling it the way you can imagine any young person losing something he really loves,” Swinney said. “He is pretty upset about it. But Patrick has such a good head on his shoulder, he wanted to take this week to get away from it.
“It is a tough loss for him because it is really hard to give up something you love. And it is a really tough loss for us because we are losing a great football player. He was a guy that already helped us this year and a guy that certainly would have been a big factor for us moving forward.”
DeStefano, who said he had some stingers in high school but they would not linger, will still be a part of the program as he will stay on as a student coach and will be able to maintain his scholarship because he will take a medical hardship. That will allow him to continue with his school work and Clemson the ability to use his scholarship for another player next year.
“We will love him just as much as we would if he could go block defensive linemen for us,” Swinney said. “He is a bright young man. He is very, very smart and has a bright future in front of him. This is just the best decision for him and his future health.”
This is the fifth time Clemson has lost a player to injury or some kind of health issue in recent years. Offensive lineman J.K. Jay had his career cut short because of back issues, linebacker Jake Nikolopoulos had a stroke which ended his, Justin Parker had knee injuries to end his, quarterback Tony McNeil also had multiple knee injuries and linebacker Stanley Hunter had seizures which prompted him to end his career early.
“He’ll be back. He will still make a great contribution to our team, I promise you. He brings intensity and focus into whatever he does and we will get him back and he will be a great student coach for us. I promise you he will turn out to be something special away from football.”