By JORDAN RAY
In January, Northwestern offensive lineman Matt Frazier had surgery on his right ankle.
In February, he had surgery on his left ankle.
Three days later, he had emergency spine surgery.
Then he tore his pectoral muscle.
Then he contracted a staph infection in his pelvis. The infection turned septic into his bloodstream, and he spent 10 days in the hospital, the first three or so in intensive care.
Yet there he was last Saturday, inspiring his teammates with a pre-game speech that helped his Wildcats defeat Minnesota in the team’s conference opener. He played sparingly, but is expected to be on the field once again this weekend when Northwestern takes on No. 18 Michigan.
“It’s probably an unprecedented amount of things that he’s found a way to battle through,” offensive line coach Adam Cushing said, “and come out on the other end better for it.”
Frazier said the ordeal made him doubt his future with the football team. He said his lowest moment came during his third day in intensive care when Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald paid a visit.
“When [Fitzgerald] left, I kind of started thinking: ‘I hope I get the opportunity to play for this man again…play for this university,’” Frazier said.
“Then when all of my teammates started visiting me again, I started thinking about that as well. I was thinking: ‘I hope to get to play with these guys again.’ So I wasn’t really sure, but here I am.”
During Frazier’s recovery in the hospital, his coaches and teammates offered support. Cushing, who has known Frazier since he recruited him out of high school, said he texted Frazier daily.
At one point, Cushing told Frazier that everything happens for a reason and that Frazier would come out of it stronger, if not physically, then mentally.
Zack Oliver, Frazier’s roommate, said he made an effort to see Frazier whenever possible. Sometimes he even did his homework in the hospital room while Frazier rested.
“Whenever he would wake up and see a friend there or see his family there, I think that helped him push through it that much more,” Oliver said.
With the support of his teammates and coaches, Frazier fought back, rededicating himself to the sport he loves and regaining the weight he had lost.
“He was very adamant,” Cushing said. “I saw him after I-don’t-know-how-many days of not eating, but he just had a smile on his face. ‘I got it, Coach. I’ll get back.’”
When the football season returned, Frazier was still recovering. He sat out the first four games of the season, but was medically cleared to return at the start of last week.
His return provided “a huge spark” for the team’s offense, superback Dan Vitale said.
Waiting in the locker room before Saturday’s game, the player who overcame seemingly impossible odds addressed his team.
“He told us that every day he was in the hospital, every day he was waiting to come back, all he could think about was playing with us,” teammate and best friend Eric Olson said. “He honestly brought me to tears. I was crying 10 minutes before I ran out of the tunnel.”
His speech worked: Northwestern shut out Minnesota 27-0.
On Monday, the Northwestern athletics department chose Frazier as one of three players to address the media. The other two players raved about his inspiring speech and expressed how grateful they were to have him back.
While Frazier said he appreciates the recognition and hopes he can continue serving as an inspiration, he’s anything but satisfied. At one point, he criticized his in-game performance, labeling it “rusty.”
He’s earned the benefit of the doubt.