Tears flow as Bockhorst reflects on a playing career over too soon

Tears flow as Bockhorst reflects on a playing career over too soon

Football

Tears flow as Bockhorst reflects on a playing career over too soon

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Matt Bockhorst promised himself he wasn’t going to cry, but that didn’t last long.

Understandably so.

Clemson’s veteran offensive lineman sat in front of a gathering of reporters Tuesday inside the team’s indoor practice facility with a bulky brace on his right knee and crutches by his side. Three days earlier, his season had come to a premature end when he tore his ACL on Clemson’s second possession against Pitt.

Bockhorst also knew it was the end of his playing days. He has the option to return for a sixth season after the NCAA didn’t count last season’s pandemic-affected season toward any fall-sport athletes’ eligibility, but Bockhorst is about to undergo his fifth knee surgery. He’s already had four operations on his left knee.

His eyes watered as he spoke about it being his time to walk away from the game.

“Sooner or later, you can only take so much,” Bockhorst said. “It’s part of the game. It’s the risk you run. It’s unfortunate because you just can’t control it. From a mental standpoint, it takes a lot out of you. And to go through that and go through the rehab and get ready to play again, and then it just seems like every year it’s just over and over and over again.

“Mentally I gave it everything I had.”

Bockhorst said he’ll still attend meetings and practice to help coach and encourage his teammates, but he’ll never play again despite there still being five games on the Tigers’ schedule starting with Florida State on Saturday. And that’s the most difficult part for Bockhorst to stomach.

“Not how I wanted to go out,” he said.

Bockhorst spoke for almost 25 emotional minutes, fielding questions about the injury, his five years at Clemson, his newfound role with the team and a little bit of everything in between. Reality seemed to further sink in with each inquiry for Bockhorst, who often needed time to gather himself.

He paused to take deep breaths. Bockhorst even chuckled during some of his answers to try to keep the tears from flowing, but he could rarely hold them back. The few times he managed to, he spoke through cracks in his voice, including when answering a question about what his time at Clemson — four ACC titles, a national championship in 2018 and a degree in financial management — has meant to him.

“If I were to sit here and talk about what Clemson means to me in totality, we’d be sitting here for a long time,” he said.

A native of Cincinnati, Bockhorst recalled going through the recruiting process as a senior as St. Xavier (Ohio) High and wanting to “think outside the box.” He was sold on going to Clemson when he took a visit to the school in January 2017. It was the same weekend the Tigers held their national championship parade following the 2016 season.

“Just sitting there in the seats in front of the stage while all those guys got to speak, I considered to myself, ‘I wonder if one day I’m going to be able to do that,'” he said, voice trembling. “And unfortunately, that’s not the case, and that’s really hard to swallow. But I cared a lot about this team, and I still do. And I’m going to do everything I can to finish strong.”

Ask Bockhorst who he’s leaned on for the most support during times like these, and he can barely get the words out of his mouth. It’s not that he had to think about the answer. He just needed time to gather himself long enough to speak.

After a lengthy pause, he went for it.

“My family has been there for me since Day 1,” Bockhorst said as his voice trailed off, pausing periodically to wipe away tears. “And they have loved and supported me every step of the way. I’ve always tried to make them proud.

“It’s times like these when you realize who you have by your side. And I know it was incredibly devastating for my parents, who were at the game. They know how much I’ve sacrificed and everything I’ve been through. It’s tough. And I know they’re there for me and would do anything for me, and that’s what being a family is about. And not just my immediate family but also everyone that’s in this facility because we’re a family, too. And families stick together in the good times and, most importantly, in the bad. The relationships that I’ve developed during my time here are relationships that will seriously last a lifetime.”

As for what life after football holds for Bockhorst, he didn’t delve into specifics. But despite many of his coaches describing him as a coach on the field, Bockhorst genuinely laughed at the notion of it involving a career in coaching.

“I thought I wanted to be a college coach, and then I became a college football player,” he said with a smile. “Those guys work a lot of hours. Obviously I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for our coaches and everything they do for us. I think a lot of people get wrapped up and see a dollar figure attached to what you could make, but there is so much that precedes that.

“I will always love the game of football, but I don’t see that in my future at this point.”

Bockhorst said he’s doing his best to stay positive despite his sudden reality. Ultimately, he said, he’s thankful that Clemson gave him a chance to “experience a lot of things that most kids can never dream of.”

“If I could do it over again, 10 out of 10 times, I would come here,” he said. “I just really appreciate everybody who’s reached out and supported me over these past couple of days. That’s really, really lifted my spirits.”

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