After a four-week absence, Matt Frazier was back on the field for Northwestern in last weekend's win over Minnesota.
But truth be told, Frazier's absence was a lot longer than four weeks.
The senior offensive lineman spent the offseason battling one medical hardship after another. And things got real serious when an infection spread to his bloodstream, forcing him to stay in the hospital for 10 days — including a stay in the intensive care unit.
This wasn't your typical football injury. This was a player who wondered if he'd ever be able to play the game again.
Monday, Frazier outlined his shockingly long list of setbacks that have happened just this calendar year.
“It kind of started before the summer. Last January I had surgery on my right ankle, then about a month later I had surgery on my left ankle. Then I think three days after that surgery, I had to have emergency surgery on my spine. So then I started recovering from that, getting incorporated back into workouts a bit. I tore my left pec. And then I think maybe a week or two after that, I was hospitalized. I had an infection in my pelvis, and it went septic, it got in my bloodstream. I was hospitalized for 10 days, three or four days in ICU."
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The recovery period stretched through the first third of the season, and Frazier admitted that he seriously questioned whether he'd be able to return at all.
“Maybe my third day in the hospital, it was right in the heat of everything, I was in ICU, things weren’t looking that great. I kind of got in my own head a little bit," he said. "One of my lowest days was when coach Fitz came to visit, him and Dr. (Jim) Phillips came to visit me. And when he left, I started thinking, ‘I hope I get the opportunity to play for this man again.' 'Play for this university,’ when Dr. Phillips came in there. And then when all my teammates were able to start visiting me again, I started thinking about that, as well. Just thinking, ‘I hope I can play for these guys again.’ And so I wasn’t really sure.
"But here I am.”
Frazier said that last sentence with a big smile, and his excitement was evident, even a full week after returning to the team.
Frazier's teammates shared that his return has buoyed the entire group, and it's no surprise why. A Bourbonnais native and Bishop McNamara alum, Frazier is one of the team's leaders, a 16-game starter in his career heading into this season who's appeared in nearly every game since his redshirt freshman season began.
When he returned to practice ahead of the Minnesota game, Frazier, according to teammates, sparked the rest of the team.
“Even just from the start of the week, when we found out Matt was going to be back in the rotation, it was a huge, huge spark for the offense, specifically for the offensive line, to get a guy like Matt back," super back Dan Vitale said. "Matt actually spoke to the offense before the game and kind of gave us his story and his outlook on everything. It was absolutely motivating.
“To me, it didn’t matter what he said, it was inspiring just to see Matt back in pads and excited to just be there and play football. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to do that again, and to see him out there and how excited he was, it was motivating in itself.”
“It was definitely motivating, inspirational," defensive back Nick VanHoose said. "And especially at the start of the week. Matt brought us up on Tuesday’s practice, our hardest practice, and talked to us and broke us down. I was just happy to see him in pads again.”
And obviously the return of No. 57 is most exciting for Frazier himself. Not only does Frazier get to return to doing what he loves, but he comes back to an undefeated team playing like one of the country's best. Multiple times while describing what it was like to be playing again after an extraordinarily challenging offseason, his face lit up.
"It was an emotional week last week, getting out there on the field again, being able to play with all my teammates, all my brothers out there. It was a great feeling," Frazier said.
“It was real exciting. It was great. They got the job done when I wasn’t in there, and now that I’m back in, I get to help. It’s really exciting for me. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be back and just participating, being around the guys, being in the grind with them. It’s a great feeling.”