Off Balance: Special Report, Part III
The Pressures to Play, Self-Imposed and Otherwise
by Kevin Moore/Special to CHN
I was a teammate of Jeff Teglia’s for two seasons at the University of Massachusetts. I interviewed Jeff three separate times over the course of his recovery from a concussion suffered on February 9, 2012. The first interview was on February 15, six days after being diagnosed. The second interview was on April 1, six days after Teglia returned from spring break, which coincided with the start of spring workouts. The last interview occurred April 30, four days after the completion of spring workouts.
Debbie Teglia is no stranger to concussions. Her youngest son Kevin, 18, a wide receiver who is committed to the University of Indianapolis for the fall of 2013, has had three diagnosed concussions since the age of 14. After his third career concussion during his sophomore season Kevin was told he would not be able to play football ever again because of post concussion syndrome. Eventually after nearly a year of testing, Kevin was cleared to play again five games into his junior season.
When you talk with Mrs. Teglia about concussions, she comes across like a doctor. She is not by trade, just a concerned mom who has researched as much information as possible on the safety of her children. Her first reaction when she heard about Jeff’s concussion, “Oh crap.”
Despite this, “I was pretty prepared,” said Mrs. Teglia of Jeff’s concussion. “The only problem is, he is far away and I couldn’t really manage it and look at it and then see his equilibrium, and hear his responses and his conversations. That made it hard to assess it.”
Being almost 1000 miles away from her son made it hard on Mrs. Teglia, especially knowing how competitive her son is in all aspects of his life. “I kept asking him, 'Should I come out, should I come out?' 'No, no, no the guys are with me,'” she said. “It was always on my mind whether I should come out there or not.”
According to Jeff Teglia, on February 19, 2012, four days after our first interview, he was cleared to exercise after passing a standard exertion test that consists of 15 minutes on the bike, eight 15-yard sprints and 5-yard change of direction sprints, as well as two sets of 5 burpees with quick feet. That day he participated in a team lift with lightweights.
“I did not want him to weight lift. Weight lifting is one of the worst things you can do for a concussion. All I can do is give him that information and he made his own choice,” said Mrs. Teglia.
On February 23, after two days of being back on the ice, Jeff had a headache and discontinued his exercise.
Just two days later, Jeff saw team doctors following a home UMass win against New Hampshire. He did a bike exertion test on Sunday, but he said he did not do the sprints or burpees. That day he did light weightlifting with the team. He then skated with no shots on Monday, and controlled shots on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I think he wanted to compete. He wanted to be there during the last stretch,” said Mrs. Teglia. “It just has to do with his competitiveness. I don’t think he was there to earn a spot, I think he was there to play. ‘This is what I got, use me or not but I’m here, I’m at practice I will make my team better.’ That’s how Jeff thinks.”
With one less goaltender in the mix to compete with for playing time, Kevin Boyle emerged as UMass’ No. 1 goaltender, starting seven of 10 games after Teglia’s concussion; including both games in UMass’ playoff series loss to Boston College.
Boyle is no stranger to the pressures of trying to regain a spot on the depth chart. He received a concussion as well, earlier in the season, while colliding with fellow goaltender Steve Mastalerz in a conditioning skating drill; the 3rd of his career to that point.
“You think I have a better chance of playing or I may get more playing time because of that. Jeff’s a teammate and one of my good friends too, it wasn’t a good thing and I wasn’t happy about it,” said Boyle. “I like fair fights so it was tough to see him go out, and I know what it felt like. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Upon being diagnosed with a concussion Jeff received advice from many people close to him who had dealt with concussions in the past. These people included his brother Kevin, teammate Kevin Boyle, and his roommate forward Troy Power, who he had played with in Omaha. Each of them stressed patience above all else because coming back too soon from a head trauma could be a career-ending decision.
On March 1, Teglia thought he was fully recovered yet again and was set to participate in UMass’ weekly Thursday goalie skate before practice. Jeff was sent down to the other end of the ice by the coaching staff and instructed to observe the drills they were doing with Boyle and Mastalerz and to mimic them on the other end of the ice. This was Teglia’s third day being back on the ice after being cleared for a second time.
Teglia and myself, being the third and fourth goaltenders on the depth chart, ran the set of drills on our own. Meanwhile the coaches put their attention to both Boyle and Mastalerz, who went through the goalie drills to prepare for the Minutemen’s upcoming series against No. 12 Merrimack.
After being on the ice for approximately 30 minutes of shots, and then resting through a 15-minute ice resurfacing, Jeff stayed on the ice for practice doing goalie specific skating drills off to the side on his own. Ten minutes into practice, Jeff started to get a headache.
“I wanted to sort of see if it was just a normal headache," Teglia said, "if it would go away or something like that. I did a couple skating drills to see if that would change anything and the headaches stuck around and it probably got a little worse.”
When asked about Jeff categorizing his headache as a normal headache Jeff’s mother said, “I think he didn’t know what they were because he never experience it before. Unless you’ve had a concussion you don’t really know what it is. Now the next time he gets a concussion he’s gonna know what kind of headache he has.”
It wasn’t until 10 minutes later, at the encouragement of teammates, that Teglia got off the ice and informed the team’s trainers of his symptoms. He was told he could stay and watch practice but Jeff did not feel well enough to stay and went home to bed for the rest of the day.
“I know the consequences. Was I even thinking about them? Absolutely not," Teglia said. "The only thing I was thinking about was staying on the ice and wanting to get back with the team, and get back on an individual level. Ya know it’s hard when your dealing with something like that especially how long it was because you just feel worthless. You don’t do anything, your just basically bored out of your mind for all the hours of the day.”
Although Teglia said he did not feel any pressure from head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon or his coaching staff to return to action, he did put a tremendous amount of pressure on himself to return to the game he loved and not look back, “I felt like I had come so far and I really didn’t want another setback.”
With playoffs only eight days away, it was unrealistic that any coach would have started him in the playoffs since the goaltender had been injured for almost a month. Still, it was hard for teammates not to speculate about the looming playoffs' impact on Jeff’s return.
“Especially with his competitive attitude, there probably was some added pressure, there probably would have for me too obviously with how big playoffs are. I guess you kind of just have to ignore it and do what’s best for your body,” said Kevin Boyle.
Coming Soon: Part IV: The Student-Athlete Balance