The thought of running onto the field at Alumni Stadium again, under his own power, physically fit to play football, served as Bobby Swigert's source of inspiration.
Driven by his unwavering passion for the game, the Boston College wide receiver constantly visualized the moment he would return to the gridiron. It became Swigert's coping mechanism during a two-year ordeal as he recovered from a devastating right knee injury that, because of several infections, forced him to undergo 11 different surgical procedures on his knee and miss the last two seasons.
"That's what kept me going through all that,'' Swigert said Wednesday after practice. "There were a lot of hard times and everything, but the one thing that I love about this game is that it gives me a feeling when I'm out there with my teammates and my brothers.
"It gives me something that nothing else does.''
After drawing upon that positive feeling for reinforcement during his painstaking recovery process, Swigert, finally, will realize his dream. When BC hosts Maine in Saturday's opener, Swigert, a 6-foot, 199-pound sixth-year senior from Louisville, Ohio, will lead the Eagles onto the field and join fellow game captain Mehdi Abdesmad, a hulking senior defensive end from Montreal who has suffered through his own knee issues the last two seasons, for the opening coin toss.
It will be the first time Swigert will take the field since suffering his catastrophic knee injury while making a routine cut "I've made a hundred times before'' during a BC home game against Notre Dame Nov. 10, 2012.
"I'm excited for that,'' BC coach Steve Addazio said of Swigert's return. "I'm excited for us and for him. He's been through an unbelievable journey. He's had more setbacks, more heartaches than anybody should have to [endure], and yet here he is, battling through it, getting better every day.
"I'll take a moment to enjoy seeing him on the field Saturday.''
So, too, will BC offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, who lauded Swigert for his steadying influence in the wide receivers' room the last two seasons. Now Fitch will attempt to help Swigert, who made 106 catches for 1,262 yards and 8 TDs in 32 games before his injury, shake off the rust and gradually incorporate him into BC's passing attack.
Fitch said Swigert would likely be limited on offense to 10-15 snaps a game initially, to go along with his work as a holder on special teams for kicker Alex Howell.
"We'll monitor how he's feeling, and how he's performing, but I think we'll keep it fairly tight,'' Fitch said. "As the season goes, we'll see how much we can expand it. So it's something where we hope he gives us a calming presence on third down.
"He's a strong-handed guy who can go and make a tough catch. If he can do that, boy, he'll be worth his weight in gold.''
As a freshman, Swigert led the team in receiving with 39 catches for 504 yards and 4 TDs, becoming the first true freshman in school history to record 100 receiving yards in a game. It came against top-ranked Notre Dame, no less, in a contest in which Swigert hauled in seven catches for 137 yards and a 58-yard TD pass from Chase Rettig.
It was, at the time, the proudest moment of his BC career.
"I was still 18 years old and a young kid,'' Swigert recalled. "We ran a double move, a comeback-and-go, and I was going against one of the best corners in the country. I kind of gave him a little stick and we connected on a 50-something-yard touchdown, maybe 60 yards.
"So I was fired up about that. It was everything I had dreamed about up to that point.''
But Swigert was faced with the most difficult challenge of his college career after getting injured two years later in another home game against the Irish.
"Coach Addazio's been amazing during this whole process,'' Swigert said. "I've been taking up a scholarship this whole time and I haven't really done anything for him on the field. But he would come and see me in the hospital and he would say, 'You're going to get through this and play for me one day.' "
In an attempt to help Swigert make it to Saturday's opener, Addazio limited his live-contact repetitions in camp.
"The amount of support I've had from my coaches, friends, and family, just keeping me positive and involved with the team, has been unbelievable,'' Swigert said. "I've traveled to every single game the last two years, even though I haven't played a snap.
"So just feeling a part of the team and missing all the camaraderie that happens on the field and truly wanting to be back in the huddle and having a voice again, that's what really kept me going the whole time.''
Now Swigert will lead the team onto the field as a game captain after he and Abdesmad were selected Monday in a blind drawing during a team meeting.
"Here's the unbelievable part,'' Addazio said. "We put the names in a hat and we plucked them out and those were the two names that came out. It kind of got me a little bit.''
Addazio was moved when Swigert's name was the first pulled from the hat.
Swigert saw it as a good omen.
"Yeah, definitely,'' he said. "First game back, to be named a game captain, I mean, one of my biggest goals here was to become captain at some point in my career here. It's the highest honor you can have here.
"It's going to be weird because for the past two years, I haven't really had to focus in on a Saturday and completely get my mind ready to play a physical, big-time football game," Swigert said. "So it's going to be really exciting to get that feeling back. Words just can't describe how I'm going to feel when I'm actually out on the field again.''
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.