Matt DiGregorio’s junior year wasn’t supposed to end before it started.
Archmere’s three-way football player and three-sport standout was ready to take his turn in the starting lineup for a team that had just missed the 2017 playoffs, when he got a bad break.
Competing in a 7-on-7 league game before fall practice, DiGregorio suffered a fractured kneecap, with some of the bone getting stuck in his cartilage. It required surgery, and instead of worrying where he fit on the roster, he was concerned about the most basic of exercises.
“At the start I was basically on crutches doing leg raises for weeks waiting to get the strength back in my knee. All of the credit goes to Jim Malseed and Ms. [Katy] Sturdivant, my [athletic] trainers who got me through the process to where I need to be. So I went from barely able to do leg raises to eventually full sprints and cuts to be ready for this season.”
He had to sit on the sideline as Archmere went on an impressive run. After losing to Division 1 power Dover in the opener, the Auks ran off the final 9 games of the regular season to make the Division 2 playoffs, only to get knocked out by then-defending champion Delmar in the quarterfinals.
Watching wasn’t easy, but Matt said it was a mixed blessing.
“I’ve been a three-sport athlete all my life. Missing a football season due to an injury was something I’d never had to experience before. It was hard missing going into what I thought was an important junior year to get all that media attention, missing all that hurt a lot but it allowed me to training during winter and train during spring to be ready for this football season.”
He might not have had stand-out moments on the field, but that’s not to say he didn’t still make an impact. At Archmere, the players pick the captains. Last year they picked two, and DiGregorio was one of them.
“For my teammates to vote me captain, that showed how much respect and trust they had for me and what kind of football player I can me [this] year.”
There was still the matter of getting back to football activities. In November, just months after the surgery, DiGregorio went out with quarterback Tom Carney for a test.
“Towards the end of the season after I knew I wasn’t going to be able to return, I went onto the field with Mr. Malseed and we did passing routes to see if I would be able to play basketball, with my legs under me. I remember Tom throwing me the ball and I was able to jump over our corners and catch it. I was perfectly fine. He thought it was the biggest thing ever because I regained the confidence in my knee I so desperately needed.”
DiGregorio’s confidence returned, but it also came back to Carney, who will get one of his top receiving weapons back, one that he first met back in 7th grade, when Tom eventually overtook Matt as the quarterback for their youth team.
“If he can come back from a fractured knee to make a spectacular catch, I have high hopes for our team if that’s the standard right there.”
DiGregorio’s athletic comeback came on the basketball court, where in a reserve role he helped guide the Auks to a 13-7 season, narrowly missing the DIAA Tournament in their best campaign since 2014.
He chose to take lacrosse season off, and work with physical therapists to not only get back into game shape, but be ready for one big year at the varsity level.
“With TITUS, and all the passing I do with Tom, I feel like my former self. I got my speed back, I got my quickness back, and I’m ready to go.”
Archmere Head Coach John Bellace watched his team’s tight end and linebacker go through the process, and he said his team re-gains a huge part of their identity.
“Matt is, like a lot of guys on our team, a 2-or-3-way player for us. We had penciled him prior to the year as someone who was going to make a big contribution. This year, he’s going to be, just in terms of talent, an offensive player, a defensive player, and a special teams guy, and we really live off of those guys. The other big thing is leadership. Him being in the locker room, firing guys up, holding himself and other guys accountable is invaluable.”
It’s Matt DiGregorio’s last ride as an Auk, but if he has a big year, it might not have been the path he wanted, but the destination could turn out amazing in the end.
AUKS NOTES: Tom Carney takes over at quarterback from Devin Houston. Houston threw 14 touchdowns and rushed for 8 more last season... Senior James Pinto looked impressive in the scrimmage against Brandywine, the Auks must replace their top 5 leading rushers from last year, who combined for 27 touchdowns, Pinto will likely split time with Roo Conaty, who found the end zone 3 times with his 10 carries a year ago... With Carney moving to QB, the Auks have no returning receivers who caught a pass last year... Defensively, Brett Kwoka's 58 tackles (16 for loss, 5.5 sacks) lead the returners. Sanjay Long had 12 backfield stops last year as well... They must also replace their kicker/punter, as Mitch Moyer and Matt Specht both graduated... The Auks' schedule includes the usual Diamond State Athletic Conference crowd, including an important points game against Division 1 Wilmington Charter, they open with Flight B squad Mount Pleasant, and also face defending-champion Woodbridge on the road in the middle of a 4-game stretch of playoff hopefuls in Saint Mark's, Woodbridge, DMA, and Saint Elizabeth.