Matt McChesney sat in a Colorado Buffaloes football team meeting room in the fall of 2002 as a junior defensive lineman when the sky started falling. Literally.
“A GA (graduate assistant) walked in and dropped off a bunch of paperwork,” McChesney said. “When the door slammed behind him, the air conditioning vent and everything inside of it fell out of the ceiling on my right shoulder and separated my AC-joint.”
A coach’s worst nightmare. It’s bad enough when a football player is seriously injured through practice or competition, but maladies are magnified when inflicted outside the confines of football. Much like the news Monday that Colorado State quarterback Collin Hill, the Rams’ anticipated starter, re-tore his ACL playing basketball. Of course, an important distinction exists.
McChesney was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hill made the decision to play hoops. But where do coaches draw the line mitigating the risk of everyday life? Should college football players be banned from pickup basketball? For CU coach Mike MacIntyre, who said his “heart goes out” to Hill after his injury, the answer is clear cut. An example: MacIntyre once led prospective recruits on a facilities tour when he spotted reserve quarterback Sam Noyer putting up some shots on campus.
“I lit into him and made him get off the court,” MacIntyre said. “I used to allow guys to do that, but then I had an injury like (Hill’s). It’s too valuable a situation to be able to do that.”
CSU coach Mike Bobo will address Hill and the circumstances of his ACL tear publicly for the first time Monday afternoon when the Rams host a news conference to begin spring practice. A CSU team spokesman said he was unaware of any policy prohibiting football players from outside sports, and the man whose name graces the turf at the school’s football stadium, Sonny Lubick, knows there’s no preventing kids from being kids.
Lubick, the Rams’ head coach from 1993 to 2007, rarely restricted his players’ hobbies.
“Our kids always played on intramural teams and you always kind of worried about it, but you never thought they would ever be hurt with a devastating injury,” Lubick said. “I remember some skiing incidents also where we probably had a guy or two that got hurt or missed a season or something. But I still believe they should still be able to do all those things.”
To Lubick’s point, how far can you go in truly limiting the risk of player injury?
Former CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson broke his collarbone moving furniture in 2014, and the same year down the road in Boulder, CU offensive lineman Tyler Henington was walking home from dinner when he stepped into a hole by accident and broke his ankle and fibula, ending his football career. Former Buffs’ defensive back Ryan Moeller missed the final six games of his sophomore season in 2015 when riding on the back of a moped that was hit from behind by a truck. The common denominator among all those ailments was the need of team support through rehabilitation; something Hill likely appreciates through a second ACL tear in three years.
“You lift him up,” Lubick said. “When we’ve had those things happen, the player would try to come in and help their coach if he wanted to. They would always have him around in the meeting rooms and just be a part of it. The players will rally around him.”
McChesney understands better than most the challenge to overcome unusual injury circumstances. Several years after that falling AC vent separated his shoulder, McChesney went undrafted and signed with the St. Louis Rams free agent, but he contracted West Nile Virus two days before the start of camp. In 2010 with the Denver Broncos, McChesney was injured in a golf cart collision he called a “freak accident” that severely injured his ankle and led to retirement.
“It sucks,” McChesney said. “It cost me millions of dollars.”
Today, McChesney owns and operates Strength Zero Strength in Centennial, a full-service athletic training facility that has helped send more than 500 area athletes to college football programs over the last eight years, he said. McChesney relayed some advice for Hill as someone who knows what it’s like to bounce back from a strange setback.
“Stop playing basketball. You’re a football player, and don’t quit,” McChesney said. “You can listen to everybody laugh at you, or you can just isolate yourself, work and put your nose to the grindstone and show everybody what you really are.”