Matt Bockhorst had four surgeries on his left knee before Saturday's game at Pittsburgh, so he immediately knew something went terribly wrong after he went down with an injury in the first half.
Sure enough, he sat there in street clothes and received the sad news from team doctors: The senior offensive lineman tore his ACL in his right knee. Bockhorst's season and Clemson career were over.
"Before I went into the locker room I knew that was probably my last snap and that is very hard to accept," Bockhorst said. "It's not something you can control but in a way, you feel like you let your team down. I've always wanted to give to my team what I've expected them to give me and that's everything."
With the Tigers sitting at a disappointing 4-3 overall and 3-2 in ACC play, it was a crushing blow for a team that relies heavily on his production and leadership. For Bockhorst, it ended an era.
He has opted not to pursue a sixth year of eligibility.
"Sooner or later, you can only take so much," said Bockhorst, who has been at Clemson since 2017. "It's part of the game. It's the risk you run. It's unfortunate because you just can't control it. From a mental standpoint, it just takes a lot out of you. To go through that, go through the rehab, get ready to play again and then it just seems like it's over, over and over again.
"It's my time. It doesn't make it any easier. I've cried my fair share of tears, but it's something that's the best decision for me. I've done everything I can. I've come to the realization that was my last snap."
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Bockhorst shed more tears while sharing memories, thank yous and heartfelt messages about his family when he met with the media Tuesday. He said it's taken him a couple of days to work through all the emotions, but he's tried to remain positive.
"I've gotten to experience a lot of things that most kids can never dream of and I'm very, very thankful for that," Bockhorst said. "I'm very thankful I came to a place like Clemson. If I could do it over again 10 out of 10 times I would come here. I just really appreciate everybody who's reached out and supported me over these last couple of days. That's really lifted my spirits."
Bockhorst reflected on success and championships on the field, but he also talked about people behind the scenes who make the program what it is and have been so supportive.
"If I were to sit here and talk about what Clemson means to me in totality, we'd be sitting here a long time," Bockhorst said. "I came here as a kid from Ohio who wanted to think outside the box and do something special. What ensued, I could never have imagined."
Bockhorst played over 1,600 snaps and started all 19 games since the start of the 2020 season. He represented Clemson at ACC Kickoff in July. He's been a voice for the program through good and bad. Bockhorst was a member of the 2018 national championship squad and has won an ACC title every season he's been with the Tigers.
"Anytime you go somewhere you want to leave it better than you found and I just really hope that I've been able to do that because this place means so much to me and has given me opportunities and taken me so many places," Bockhorst said. "It's incredible. I've tried to reflect on all the positives the last couple of days because this experience has been one in a million and obviously the big one is winning the national championship and it bonds us but so many other things have gone on."
His role on this year's team, though, isn't over. Bockhorst still wants to be a "presence" in the locker room and on the sideline to help a struggling offense find its way in a different way for him.
"I know that during this year, a challenging year, it's been very easy for people to jump ship and criticize, but this team hasn't splintered," Bockhorst said. "We've had every reason to. We've had all the adversity in the world. We've had a hard time on the field, injuries, you name it. But this team has not splintered and is not going to quit on one another. I would hope that the fan base doesn't either."
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