Rob Dvoracek has been all smiles this August.
Now working as a player-coach for football’s training camp as a redshirt in 2014 while he takes the rest of the year to rehabilitate back into game-shape, the junior can be seen patrolling the confines of the Owls’ practice facility at the Edberg-Olson Complex, playbook and clipboard in hand, with a coach’s authority and the booming vocals to suit it.
A considerable feat, when one remembers this sizable 6-foot-2, 230-pound figure laid 35 pounds lighter atop a hospital mattress a mere half-year ago.
The junior linebacker suffered from two separate instances of a staph infection, following surgery to repair tears in his Medial Collateral Ligament and meniscus after taking an awkward blow to his knee in Temple’s 41-21 win against Memphis on Nov. 30 of last year.
“We ran a blitz and the quarterback ended up rolling out,” Dvoracek said. “I went to redirect and I got hit from the outside and my knee went in and popped. I didn’t know what happened and I just got up and limped off the field. The doc checked me out and said, ‘Yeah, you’re done.’ I was like, ‘Can’t you put a brace on it or something?’”
“I had no idea what happened,” Dvoracek added. “I had never had a knee injury before and in the middle of the game you have that adrenaline rush. I couldn’t walk when I got up but I wasn’t in excruciating plane or anything. But the plane ride home, I was hurting. The ride home was probably the worst part of the pain and it swelled up. I knew right then it wasn’t good.”
The original diagnosis of his knee landed the Allentown, Pa. native in surgery, before he came down with the flu-like symptoms a week later that foreshadowed the trying three-month period that would follow.
“Not even a week [after surgery], I had flu-like symptoms and I went back the hospital,” Dvoracek said. “I had a staph infection from surgery. They cleaned it out, I went on antibiotics for a month and a half, I was off antibiotics for a week and then it came back.”
“I had two surgeries to remove it again,” Dvoracek added. “I went back on antibiotics for a month and a half, and I didn’t actually start [knee rehabilitation] until three months into the process.”
The infection first popped up in his injured knee, soon spreading to his calf and bloodstream. In the collective three months of fighting the infection during the winter, the Owls’ once-hulking 230-pound linebacker saw his weight plummet to 195 pounds.
The symptoms of his infection coupled with the steep loss of weight set back full-blown rehabilitation on Dvoracek’s knee until the spring.
“While I had the infection, it was hard to do a lot of movement,” Dvoracek said. “I was on crutches for about five and a half months and couldn’t walk. So it was really range of motion stuff to start out, and to try to strengthen my leg back up.”
“Now, I’m doing normal stuff like step ups, lateral movement stuff, elliptical, squats and stuff like that,” he added. “I’m getting better, it’s just a very slow process.”
Though he’ll be forced to redshirt in his third season with the team, Dvoracek said he won’t consider the 2014-15 year a lost period. He played in eight games last season, starting four, and tied for 12th on the team with 14 solo tackles.
While Dvoracek said he doesn’t know how long the player-coach role will last, it’s helping him learn the game from a fresh perspective on the sidelines with the hope of solidifying a starting spot as a redshirt junior in 2015.
“This is a good opportunity for me,” Dvoracek said. “I talked to [coach Matt Rhule] and he told me when he [redshirted], it was the best time for him. He learned the defense and he got a lot bigger and stronger, and I’m definitely getting a lot stronger.”
“I’m understanding the whole defense a lot more,” Dvoracek added. “I know all three linebacker positions now. I’m learning the whole playbook and helping the guys out at each position is going to help me in the long run. … I just want to be a part of the team. I don’t want to be that guy who redshirts and sits in his room all the time.”
Compared to the sickly state Dvoracek found himself in during the winter, he’s in a position now in which he’s able to train, stay with the team, and for the time-being, coach.
And he’ll take it.
“I’m happy that I’m progressing and getting better,” Dvoracek said. “It’s a very slow process, but I’m fortunate that I’m able to be out here with the guys and be a part of the whole thing, and I’m happy I’m able to do that. I wish I was on the field but you can’t always get what you want.”
“I’m not stepping on anybody’s shoes here,” Dvoracek added, regarding his new role. “I’m just trying to say little things, do this, do that. I’m out here helping [linebackers coach Mike Siravo] and [graduate assistant Eric Fargo], and I’m having fun.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.